Nehemiah 1 - 3
Report from JerusalemNehemiah 1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Nehemiah’s Prayer4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah Sent to JudahNehemiah 2:1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, ( 3/14/445 BC. This was the exact date that the book of Daniel foretold. This is Daniel's 70 weeks. Daniel 9:24. 4/6/32 AD Palm Sunday. See Brett's video on right side. ) when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.
Nehemiah Inspects Jerusalem’s Walls9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.
11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”
Rebuilding the WallNehemiah 3 1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
3 The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. 5 And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.
6 Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired. 10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. 11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.
13 Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.
14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
15 And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. 16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. 18 After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress. 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 After him Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib. 22 After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, repaired. 23 After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house. 24 After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and to the corner.25 Palal the son of Uzai repaired opposite the buttress and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower. 27 After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.
28 Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. 29 After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. 30 After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. 31 After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner. 32 And between the upper chamber of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired.
ESV Study Bible
What I'm Reading
By Don Carson 5/24/2018
The opening few verses of Psalm 78 initially elicit a little puzzlement. Asaph invites his readers (and if this is sung, his hearers) to hear his teaching, to listen to the words of his mouth (78:1). Then he announces, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old” (78:2). Anticipation builds; it sounds as if we shall hear brand-new things that have been hidden before Asaph came on the scene. Then he further describes these “hidden things, things from of old: they are “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us” (78:3). So, is he embarking on some new revelation, previously hidden, or is he simply reviewing the common heritage of the Israelites? And why add this point that at least part of his purpose is to disclose these things to the new generation that is coming along (78:4)?
First, the word rendered “parables” has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to narrative parables, wisdom sayings, aphorisms, and several other forms. Here, Asaph seems to mean no more than that he will say what he has to say in the poetic structures and wise comparisons that characterize this Psalm.
Second, the content of this Psalm is both old — “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us”– and new, “hidden things.” This Psalm is one of a group of “historical Psalms,” that is, Psalms that review some of the experiences of the people of God with their God. For most of its length its chief focus is the Exodus and the events that surrounded it, including the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and so forth. The Psalm brings us down to the reign of David (which, incidentally, shows that Asaph himself lived in David’s day or later). Yet this Psalm is not a mere review of the bare facts of that history. The recital is designed to draw certain lessons from that history, lessons that might be missed if attention were not drawn to them. These lessons include the sorry patterns of rebellion, God’s self-restraint in his rising anger, his graciousness in saving them again and again, and more. These lessons are “hidden” in the bare text, but they are there, and Asaph brings them out.
Third, Asaph understands (1) that deep knowledge of Scripture and of the ways of God means more than knowing facts, but also grasping the unfolding patterns to see what God is doing; (2) that at any time the covenant people of God are never more than one generation from extinction, so it is utterly vital to pass on this accumulating insight to the next generation.
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 54The Lord Upholds My Life
54 To The Choirmaster: With Stringed Instruments. A Maskil Of David, When The Ziphites Went And Told Saul, “Is Not David Hiding Among Us?”
1 O God, save me by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
2 O God, hear my prayer;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For strangers have risen against me;
ruthless men seek my life;
they do not set God before themselves. Selah
4 Behold, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
5 He will return the evil to my enemies;
in your faithfulness put an end to them.
6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
By Gleason Archer Jr.
The name ʾEstēr is apparently derived from the Persian word for star, stara. Esther’s Hebrew name was H˓dassâ (from hâdassâ, meaning “myrtle.” The theme of this short book is an illustration of the overruling providence of the sovereign God who delivers and preserves His people from the malice of the heathen who would plot their destruction. Although there is no explicit mention of the name of God, in this book, nothing could be clearer than the irresistible power of His omnipotent rule, watching over His covenant people, preserving them from the malignity of Satan in his vain attempt to work through Haman and accomplish the annihilation of the Jewish nation.
While it is not easy to account for the absence of God’s name in this narrative; the best explanation available is that the account deals principally with those Jews who had passed up their opportunity of returning to the land of promise and chose to remain among the Gentiles after the return of the faithful remnant in 536 B.C. It is certain that all the acts of this gripping drama take place in Gentile territory; it is also certain that the overruling providence of God is definitely implied in 4:14: “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place … and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (ASV).
Outline of Esther
I. The feast of Ahasuerus and the divorce of Vashti, 1:1–22
II. Choice of Esther as queen, 2:1–23
III. Haman’s plot to destroy Mordecai and the Jews, 3:1–15
IV. Mordecai’s persuasion of Esther to intervene, 4:1–17
V. Esther’s successful petition to the king, 5:1–7:10
VI. Downfall of Haman and deliverance of the Jews, 8:1–9:16
VII. Feast of Purim, 9:17–32
VIII. Conclusion: the prominence of Mordecai, 10:1–3
Esther:Authorship and Date
The text itself fails to indicate either the author or the date of composition. The Jewish authorities record the tradition (as old as Josephus and repeated by Ibn Ezra) that Mordecai was the author of the book, but the way in which Mordecai is referred to in 10:2–3 suggests that his career was already finished. Other possible authors might be Ezra or Nehemiah, but for either of these there is no good linguistic evidence, judging from the style or diction of the three books concerned.
As to the date, the terminus a quo is the death of Xerxes (464 B.C.), since 10:2 seems to imply that his reign is finished. The latest terminus ad quem is prior to 330 B.C. since there are no traces of Greek influence either in language or in thought to be discovered in Esther. The most likely date of composition is somewhere in the latter half of the fifth century (so E. J. Young). Whoever the author may have been, he shows such intimate knowledge of Persian customs and of the fifth-century historical situation that he may well have lived in Persia and been an eyewitness of the events recorded.
Opposition to the Historicity of Esther
1. Rationalist critics have made much of the failure of secular records to contain any mention of Queen Esther. According to Herodotus, Xerxes’s queen during this period, that is, from the seventh year of his reign ( Est. 2:16 ), was named Amestris, the daughter of a Persian named Otanes (7.61). It is stated that she brutally mutilated the mother of Artaynta, a paramour of Xerxes (9.112) and that also upon one occasion she had fourteen noble Persian youths buried alive as a thank offering to a god of the netherworld (7.113). Certainly the Persian origin of Amestris and her sadistic brutality exclude any possibility of her being identified with Esther — unless Herodotus has preserved a very garbled and erroneous tradition. It should be recognized that in the following details there is satisfactory agreement between the accounts of Esther and Herodotus: (a) it was in the third year of his reign, 483 B.C., that Xerxes convoked an assembly of his nobles to plan an expedition against Greece — an occasion which might well have given rise to the feast mentioned in Est. 1:3 (cf. Herodotus 7.7); (b) it was in his seventh year (479 B.C.) that Esther was made queen ( Est. 2:16 ), which would correspond to the year Xerxes returned from his defeat at Salamis and sought consolation in his harem (Herodotus 9.108). After the violent clash with Amestris over the Artaynta affair, Xerxes may well have chosen a new favorite as his acting queen. So far as Vashti is concerned, it is true that Herodotus makes no mention of her; yet it should be borne in mind that Herodotus omitted many important people and events in his account. (It should be remembered, for example, that on the basis of Herodotus’s omission, modern scholars used to deny the existence of Belshazzar, until subsequent archaeological discovery verified the historicity of Dan. 5. )
2. On the basis of Est. 2:5–6 some critics have alleged that the author must have regarded Xerxes as a near successor to King Nebuchadnezzar, since he implies that Mordecai was carried off in the deportation of Jehoiachin in 597 and yet was still very much alive in the reign of Xerxes (485–464 B.C.). But this deduction is founded upon a mistaken interpretation of the Hebrew text; the true antecedent of the relative pronoun who in verse 6 is not Mordecai himself but rather Kish, his great-grandfather. If it was Kish who was Jehoiachin’s contemporary, as the author implies, three generations would have elapsed by the time of Mordecai — a proper interval between 597 and 483.
3. An objection has been raised to Est. 1:1 on the ground that 127 was a number much too high for the provinces under Xerxes’s rule, since Herodotus states that the empire was then divided into twenty satrapies. But it is by no means certain that the Hebrew term medɩ̂nah (“province”) represented the same administrative unit as the Greek satrapeia; in all probability the medɩ̂nah was a mere subdivision of it. Thus in Ezra 2:1 Judah is referred to as medɩ̂nah or “subdivision” of what Herodotus itemizes as the fifth satrapy, Syria. Even the number of satrapies was by no means stable, for in the Behistun Rock inscription the empire is said to be composed of twenty-one satrapies, and then later in the same inscription, twenty-three, and later still, twenty-nine. Herodotus himself states that there were about sixty nations under the Persian rule. In view of all this evidence, it is premature for anyone to state categorically that the Persian empire could not have been divided into 127 medɩ̂not in the time of Xerxes.
4. It has also been objected that the armed Jews could not possibly have killed as many as 75,000 enemies in the Persian empire in so short a time as a single day (as Est. 9:16–17 asserts), nor would the Persian government ever have permitted such slaughter. It is, however, most precarious reasoning to insist that the unusual is equivalent to the impossible. In the light of the peculiar situation brought about by Haman’s plot to destroy the entire Jewish nation, and the careful equipping of the Jews with arms to destroy their foes, it is by no means incredible that the Jews could have encountered and overcome such a large number of foes. Moreover, the ancient historians abundantly testify that the Persian government had a remarkably callous attitude toward human life and that where a member of the royal family was involved, they were known to be altogether unsparing in their severity.
5. Doubts have been raised by many authors as to the historicity of Mordecai, and advocates of the late - date theory have labeled Esther as a mere romance intended to bolster nationalistic self-esteem and improve the morale of the oppressed and downtrodden Jewish people. But more recently those scholars who formerly rejected the entire account as fictitious have been forced to revise their conclusions in the light of an inscription published by Ungnad mentioning a certain Marduk-ai-a as an official in Susa during the reign of Xerxes. In fact, the name Mardukai has been found frequently in Late Babylonian inscriptions (as might well be expected of a name signifying “Man of Marduk” — the tutelary god of Babylon itself).
6. As for doubts concerning the historicity of Haman the Agagite, it is significant that an inscription of Sargon has been published by Oppert which mentions Agag as a district in the Persian empire. In the light of this evidence, it is apparent that Haman was a native of this province (rather than a descendant of the Amalekite king, Agag, as late Jewish tradition has supposed; cf. ISBE, p. 1008a).
The Problem With Social Media RighteousnessExcellent article!
By Samuel James 4/22/2017
"The modern internet, particularly social media, is essentially a vast positive reinforcement machine. Note that positive in this context doesn’t mean “leading to positive outcomes,” just “an active system of reward.” We’ve built these systems into every major online platform there is, the likes and favs and retweets and reblogs and shares. And the thing is that they work. They are powerfully influential on people’s behavior. But people’s rational minds rebel at that and insist that they don’t care about such things. The problem is that you might not care, in terms of your conscious mind, but your brain cares. Check the literature on behaviorism. In the video game you jump up to get the coin even though you know it does nothing to help your life, even in the context of the game. You do it because you’re rewarded for it, in the simplest and least consequential way, and so the pleasure centers of your brain light up and you are conditioned to do it again.
Every time someone who is extremely online and yells about politics all day and all night says to me “I know social media doesn’t do anything,” I check and they’ve tweeted like 250,000 times. That’s behaviorism at work." Freddie deBoer
I’m not an expert on digital technology or neurology, and I don’t think Freddie is either, but almost everything I’ve read about the internet and the psychological dynamics underpinning social media affirms what he says here. The reason Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are some of the most financially valuable companies in the world right now is not mainly that they give us something we can’t get anywhere else, it’s that they give us the same thing over, and over, and over, and over again, in a way that embeds itself into our consciousness. Think of the last shot of the movie “The Social Network,” in which Jesse Eisenberg’s character mindlessly refreshes his Facebook page multiple times to see if his ex has accepted his friend request. That’s an accurate picture of how most of us use social media–not really to discover anything new, but to discover how others have discovered us in some way.
Why should we remind ourselves of this? Here’s one reason: Because social media has such a powerful neurological imprint, we should be extremely skeptical of our motivations while using it. We should assume, all variables being equal, that we have mixed motives at best for how we utilize the medium, how we present ourselves, what we say, and how we respond to others. We should not, in other words, assume that our social media “community” is merely a digital version of flesh and blood company, or that our posts and Tweets and “Likes” are representative of how we would think or behave in that moment if we didn’t have the technology.
Now, there are going to be some who really–and I mean really–resist what I’m saying here. Why? Because what I’m prescribing is that we consciously undermine the mentality and emotions that go into the vast majority of social media trends, attitudes, and politics. Social media righteousness, the kind of social media righteousness that chastises others for not Tweeting about something fast enough or that builds walls of moral superiority around hashtags and threads, is a righteousness that has been polluted with a uniquely strong toxin. The reward mechanism that Freddie mentions here is pervasive, and it builds platforms and people who appear thoughtful but in reality calculate who they are and what they say to climb up the social media ladder. This is just reality. It’s reality we don’t like hearing, but it’s reality nonetheless.
Samuel D. James serves in the Office of the President at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. You can follow him on Twitter @samueld_james.
Flourishing in the Digital Age
By Tony Reinke 4/18/2017
Always connected to the web, always connected to social media, a smartphone with a camera is the most addictive tool of communication ever invented.
Packaged with all its potent blessings come the amplification of its curses. Our phones can allow unnecessary habits in the silent spaces of our lives. And our phones can feed the most insidious impulses that live inside of our hearts.
We all seem to sense that — for good or bad — our smartphones are changing us, our habits, and our relationships. We all know it. We feel it. We seem to be more productive, and yet we are more distracted. We seem to be more connected, and yet we are more alone. We seem to be more knowledgeable, and yet we are less likely to understand the very purpose of our lives.
Tony Reinke is senior writer for Desiring God and author of three books. He hosts the Ask Pastor John podcast and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and three children.
Tony Reinke Books:
The Witness of Matthew
By R.C. Sproul 2/1/2009
In the history of biblical studies, we have seen in the last two centuries the rise of so-called “higher criticism.” So much of higher criticism is fueled by skepticism with respect to the reliability of the biblical texts. Since orthodox Christians stand opposed to many of the arguments of higher critics, they sometimes overlook valuable insights that can be gained through critical analysis of the text. Some of these analyses can be very helpful to our endeavor of seeking an accurate understanding of the Bible.
One element of critical scholarship that can do this is that dimension known as source criticism. As the title suggests, this type of criticism attempts to reconstruct the way in which the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) came to be written.
The general assumption among source critics is that Mark was the first written gospel. This is seen by an analysis of Matthew and Luke — both Matthew and Luke have material in their gospels that is common to the gospel of Mark. At the same time, there is common material found in Luke and in Matthew that is not found in Mark. The scholars then try to account for this common information found in these two gospels that is absent from Mark’s gospel. The working hypothesis is that Matthew and Luke, in addition to having Mark as a source for their information, had a second independent source that Mark did not use. This second independent source is called simply the “Q-source.”
That letter Q is used since it is the first letter of the German word quelle, which is simply the word for source. That is to say, the Q-source is a source that is unknown to us but known to the gospel writers Matthew and Luke. Much of this analysis is speculative and hypothetical. Scholars differ as to whether the alleged Q-source was a written source shared by Matthew and Luke, or simply an oral tradition they both had access to. Wherever we land in our conclusions about the method by which the gospel writers compiled their texts, the very analysis that we have seen gives us one clear benefit. By isolating material that is found in Matthew and only in Matthew, or isolating material that is found in Luke and only in Luke, or isolating material found in Mark and only in Mark, we get clues as to the audience to which the author was directing his information and also his major themes in the particular gospel.
For example, in looking at the gospel of Matthew, we find more citations and allusions to Old Testament Scriptures than in any of the other gospels. This fact alone lends credence to the idea that Matthew was directing his gospel primarily to a Jewish audience to show how Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.
We also see in Matthew’s gospel a strong condemnation of the Jewish clergy of that period of history who were responsible for seeing to the destruction of Jesus. The scribes and the Pharisees are particularly singled out, as Matthew records for us the judgment of woes spoken against the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. On a somewhat related matter, we also find in Matthew more information concerning Jesus’ teaching on hell than we find anywhere else in the four gospels.
If we were to look, however, for one single theme that seems to be the most central and most important theme of the entire gospel of Matthew, it would be the theme of the coming of the kingdom. We see in the first instance that the term gospel refers to the gospel of the kingdom — the good news of the announcement of the breakthrough of the kingdom of God. In Matthew’s case, he uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” rather than the terminology “kingdom of God.” He does this not because he has a different view of the meaning or content of the kingdom of God; rather, out of sensitivity to his Jewish readers, he makes common use of what is called periphrasis, a certain type of circumlocution to avoid mentioning the sacred name of God. So for Matthew, the doctrine of the kingdom of heaven is the same kingdom that the other writers speak of as the kingdom of God.
Matthew talks about the breakthrough of the kingdom and the arrival of Jesus in His incarnation. He announces the coming of the kingdom at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and at the end of the book Matthew speaks about the final consummation of the coming of that kingdom in the Olivet Discourse. So from the first page of Matthew to the last page, we see the unifying theme of the coming of the kingdom of God in the appearance of the king Himself, who is the Messiah of Israel and the fulfillment of the kingdom given to Judah.
The gospel of Matthew is rich in detailed information about the teaching of Jesus and particularly in His parables, which are not always included in the other gospels. Again, the central focus of the parables of Jesus is the kingdom, where He introduces parables by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto this…” or “the kingdom of heaven is like unto that….” If we are to understand the significance of the appearance of Jesus in the fullness of time to inaugurate the kingdom and the whole meaning of redemptive history, we see that focus come into clear view in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew.
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 Continual Burnt Offering (Malachi 4:2)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
May 24Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. ESV
The Old Testament closes with the prophecy of the day of the Lord and the coming of the Sun of Righteousness. The New Testament ends with the promise of the Morning Star. Both refer to our Lord Jesus, but the two aspects of His second advent are thus presented. He will return for His bride, the church, as the Morning Star. He will be presented for the deliverance of Israel and the blessing of the world as the glorious Sun of Righteousness. The darker the night becomes the nearer must be the hour of the fulfillment of His pledge to come again. This blessed event is the hope of the church, the hope of Israel and the hope of the world.
The dark stream of evil is flowing apace,
And man is still walking a stranger to grace,
While daring rebellion is on the increase,
Which mar not my joy, which disturb not my peace,
For my heart is engaged with its own happy song;
The Lord who has loved me will come before long;
It may be tomorrow, or even tonight,
That I shall behold Him in unclouded light!
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
6. Then in the collation of benefices (which was formerly conjoined
with ordination, but is now altogether separate), how much better do
they conduct themselves? But they have many reasons to give, for it is
not bishops alone who confer the office of priests (and even in their
case, where they are called Collators, they have not always the full
right), but others have the presentation, while they only retain the
honorary title of collations. To these are added nominations from
schools, resignations, either simple or by way of exchange,
commendatory rescripts, preventions, and the like. But they all conduct
themselves in such a way that one cannot upbraid another. I maintain
that, in the Papacy in the present day, scarcely one benefice in a
hundred is conferred without simony, as the ancients have defined it
(Calv. in Art. 8:21). I say not that all purchase for a certain sum;
but show me one in twenty who does not attain to the priesthood by some
sinister method. Some owe their promotion to kindred or affinity,
others to the influence of their parents, while others procure favour
by obsequiousness. In short, the end for which the offices are
conferred is, that provision may be made not for churches, but for
those who receive them. Accordingly, they call them benefices, by which
name they sufficiently declare, that they look on them in no other
light than as the largesses by which princes either court the favour or
reward the services of their soldiers. I say nothing of the fact, that
these rewards are conferred on barbers, cooks, grooms, and dross of
that sort. At present, indeed, there are no cases in law courts which
make a greater noise than those concerning sacerdotal offices, so that
you may regard them as nothing else than game set before dogs to be
hunted. Is it tolerable even to hear the name of pastors given to those
who have forced their way into the possession of a church as into an
enemy's country? who have evicted it by forensic brawls? who have
bought it for a price? who have laboured for it by sordid sycophancy?
who, while scarcely lisping boys, have obtained it like heritage from
uncles and relatives? Sometimes even bastards obtain it from their
7. Was the licentiousness of the people, however corrupt and lawless, ever carried to such a height? But a more monstrous thing still is, that one man (I say not what kind of man, but certainly one who cannot govern himself) is appointed to the charge of five or six churches. In the courts of princes in the present day, you may see youths who are thrice abbots, twice bishops, once archbishops. Everywhere are Canons loaded with five, six, or seven cures, of not one of which they take the least charge, except to draw the income. I will not object that the word of God cries aloud against this: it has long ceased to have the least weight with them. I will not object that many councils denounce the severest punishment against this dishonest practice; these, too, when it suits them, they boldly contemn. But I say that it is monstrous wickedness, altogether opposed to God, to nature, and to ecclesiastical government, that one thief should lie brooding over several churches, that the name of pastor should be given to one who, even if he were willing, could not be present among his flock, and yet (such is their impudence) they cloak these abominations with the name of church, that they may exempt them from all blame. Nay, if you please, in these iniquities is contained that sacred succession to which, as they boast, it is owing that the Church does not perish.
8. Let us now see, as the second mark for estimating a legitimate pastor, how faithfully they discharge their office. Of the priests who are there elected, some are called monks, others seculars. The former herd was unknown to the early Church; even to hold such a place in the Church is so repugnant to the monastic profession, that in old times, when persons were elected out of monasteries to clerical offices, they ceased to be monks. And, accordingly, Gregory, though in his time there were many abuses, did not suffer the offices to be thus confounded (Gregor. Lib. 3 Ep. 11). For he insists that those who have been appointed abbots shall resign the clerical office, because no one can be properly at the same time a monk and a clerk, the one being an obstacle to the other. Now, were I to ask how he can well fulfil his office who is declared by the canons to be unfit, what answer, pray, will they give? They will quote those abortive decrees of Innocent and Boniface, by which monks are admitted to the honour and power of the priesthood, though they remain in their monasteries. But is it at all reasonable that any unlearned ass, as soon as he has seized upon the Roman See, may by one little word overturn all antiquity? But of this matter afterwards. Let it now suffice, that in the purer times of the Church it was regarded as a great absurdity for a monk to hold the office of priest. For Jerome declares that he does not the office of priest while he is living among monks, and ranks himself as one of the people to be governed by the priests. But to concede this to them, what duty do they perform? Some of the mendicants preach, while all the other monks chant or mutter masses in their cells; as if either our Saviour had wished, or the nature of the office permits, presbyters to be made for such a purpose. When Scripture plainly testifies that it is the duty of a presbyter to rule his own church (Acts 20:28), is it not impious profanation to transfer it to another purpose, nay, altogether to change the sacred institution of God? For when they are ordained, they are expressly forbidden to do what God enjoins on all presbyters. For this is their cant, Let a monk, contented with his cell, neither presume to administer the sacraments, nor hold any other public office. Let them deny, if they can, that it is open mockery of God when any one is appointed a presbyter in order to abstain from his proper and genuine office, and when he who has the name is not able to have the thing.
9. I come to the seculars, some of whom are (as they speak) beneficiaries; that is, have offices by which they are maintained, while others let out their services, day by day, to chant or say masses, and live in a manner on a stipend thus collected. Benefices either have a cure of souls, as bishoprics and parochial charges, or they are the stipends of delicate men, who gain a livelihood by chanting; as prebends, canonries, parsonships, deaneries, chaplainships, and the like; although, things being now turned upside down, the offices of abbot and prior are not only conferred on secular presbyters, but on boys also by privilege, that is, by common and usual custom. In regard to the mercenaries who seek their food from day to day, what else could they do than they actually do, in other words, prostitute themselves in an illiberal and disgraceful manner for gain, especially from the vast multitude of them with which the world now teems? Hence, as they dare not beg openly, or think that in this way they would gain little, they go about like hungry dogs, and by a kind of barking importunity extort from the unwilling what they may deposit in their hungry stomachs. Were I here to attempt to describe how disgraceful it is to the Church, that the honour and office of a presbyter should come to this, I should never have done. My readers, therefore, must not expect from me a discourse which can fully represent this flagitious indignity. I briefly say, that if it is the office of a presbyter (and this both the word of God prescribes (1 Cor. 4:1) and the ancient canons enjoin) to feed the Church, and administer the spiritual kingdom of Christ, all those priests who have no work or stipend, save in the traffic of masses, not only fail in their office, but have no lawful office to discharge. No place is given them to teach, they have no people to govern. In short, nothing is left them but an altar on which to sacrifice Christ; this is to sacrifice not to God but to demons, as we shall afterwards show (see chap.18 sec. 3, 9, 14).
10. I am not here touching on extraneous faults,  but only on the intestine evil which lies at the root of the very institution. I will add a sentence which will sound strange in their ears, but which, as it is true, it is right to express, that canons, deans, chaplains, provosts, and all who are maintained in idle offices of priesthood, are to be viewed in the same light. For what service can they perform to the Church? The preaching of the word, the care of discipline, and the administration of the Sacraments, they have shaken off as burdens too grievous to be borne. What then remains on which they can plume themselves as being true presbyters? Merely chanting and pompous ceremonies. But what is this to the point? If they allege custom, use, or the long prescription, I, on the contrary, appeal to the definition by which our Saviour has described true presbyters, and shown the qualities of those who are to be regarded as presbyters. But if they cannot endure the hard law of submitting to the rule of Christ, let them at least allow the cause to be decided by the authority of the primitive Church. Their condition will not be one whit improved when decided according to the ancient canons. Those who have degenerated into Canons ought to be presbyters, as they formerly were, to rule the Church in common with the bishop, and be, as it were, his colleagues in the pastoral office. What they call deaneries of the chapter have no concern with the true government of the Church, much less chaplainships and other similar worthless names. In what light then are they all to be regarded? Assuredly, both the word of Christ and the practice of the primitive Church exclude them from the honour of presbyters. They maintain, however, that they are presbyters; but we must unmask them, and we shall find that their whole profession is most alien from the office of presbyters, as that office is described to us by the apostles, and was discharged in the primitive Church. All such offices, therefore, by whatever titles they are distinguished, as they are novelties, and certainly not supported either by the institution of God or the ancient practice of the Church, ought to have no place in a description of that spiritual government which the Church received, and was consecrated by the mouth of the Lord himself. Or (if they would have me express it in ruder and coarser terms), since chaplains, canons, deans, provosts, and such like lazy-bellies, do not even, with one finger, touch a particle of the office, which is necessarily required in presbyters, they must not be permitted falsely to usurp the honour, and thereby violate the holy institution of Christ.
11. There still remain bishops and rectors of parishes; and I wish that they would contend for the maintenance of their office. I would willingly grant that they have a pious and excellent office if they would discharge it; but when they desert the churches committed to them, and throwing the care upon others, would still be considered pastors, they just act as if the office of pastor were to do nothing. If any usurer, who never stirs from the city, were to give himself out as a ploughman or vine-dresser; or a soldier, who has constantly been in the field or the camp, and has never seen books or the forum, to pass for a lawyer, who could tolerate the absurdity? Much more absurdly do those act who would be called and deemed lawful pastors of the Church, and are unwilling so to be. How few are those who in appearance even take the superintendence of their church? Many spend their lives in devouring the revenues of churches which they never visit even for the purpose of inspection. Some once a-year go themselves or send a steward, that nothing may be lost in the letting of them. When the corruption first crept in, those who wished to enjoy this kind of vacation pleaded privilege, but it is now a rare case for any one to reside in his church. They look upon them merely in the light of farms, over which they appoint their vicars as grieves or husbandmen. But it is repugnant to common sense to regard him as a shepherd who has never seen a sheep of his flock.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
11/1/2009 A Man Created in God’s Image
In 1998 a dear friend prompted me to get involved working with Dr. Tom Woodward and the C. S. Lewis Society. A few months later I found myself at dinner with Phillip E. Johnson, noted law professor at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial. During my time with Dr. Johnson I learned two very important things. First, if we as Christians are going to enter the debate on Darwinian evolution, we must first understand who and what we’re up against — we must know our opponents’ arguments better than they do. Second, I learned that our ultimate end is not simply to win the argument but to win our opponents to Christ, and that we must therefore be careful to win both the argument and win the man so that at the end of the debate our opponent has a place to land, a smooth runway, so to speak, where he can come down.
We’re familiar with Peter’s charge: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” However, we too often forget the manner in which we are called to “make a defense” (an apologetic) for the hope within us. Peter continues, “yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and this month marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species (with an Introduction by Charles W. Eliot). While it would certainly be easy for us to do an issue of Tabletalk that simply reiterated the glaring deficiencies of Darwin’s naturalism and evolutionary biology, we decided instead to follow the wisdom of Dr. Johnson. Thus, we have provided you with something that is hard to find anywhere, namely, a fair and honest biographical portrait of Charles Darwin and an overview of responses to Darwinian evolutionary theory from a Christian perspective, so that, at the end of the day, the church might be better equipped to give a defense of her hope with gentleness and respect, pointing all professed Darwinists to the undeniable Creator before whose face we live coram Deo.
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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)
by Bill Federer
Abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, died this day, May 24, 1879. He published the anti-slavery paper in Boston called "The Liberator," and founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. Suffering hundreds of death threats for his politically incorrect stand for the value of all human life, William Lloyd Garrison wrote: "I desire to thank God, that He enables me to disregard 'the fear of man which bringeth a snare,' and to speak His truth… and… while life-blood warms my throbbing veins…to oppose… the brutalizing sway - till Afric's chains are burst, and freedom rules the rescued land."
Compiled by Rick Adams
Every day people are straying away from the church
and going back to God.
--- Lenny Bruce
The Essential Lenny Bruce
Were there no God,
we would be in this glorious world
with grateful hearts
and no one to thank.
--- Christina Rossetti
The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)
The most important meeting we as leaders attend is that daily personal meeting with the Lord, before the day begins, when worship and meditation increase our faith as we receive the orders for the day.
--- Warren Wiersbe
On Being a Leader for God
The upright soul is constant in his profession, and does not change his behavior according to his companions. Oh that I might never, through shame or fear, disown him who has already acknowledged me!
--- George Swinnock
The Works of George Swinnock Complete in 5 Volumes (Nichols Edition)
... from here, there and everywhere
Thomas A Kempis
Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion
The Sixteenth Chapter / We Should Show Our Needs To Christ And Ask His Grace
O MOST kind, most loving Lord, Whom I now desire to receive with devotion, You know the weakness and the necessity which I suffer, in what great evils and vices I am involved, how often I am depressed, tempted, defiled, and troubled.
To You I come for help, to You I pray for comfort and relief. I speak to Him Who knows all things, to Whom my whole inner life is manifest, and Who alone can perfectly comfort and help me.
You know what good things I am most in need of and how poor I am in virtue. Behold I stand before You, poor and naked, asking Your grace and imploring Your mercy.
Feed Your hungry beggar. Inflame my coldness with the fire of Your love. Enlighten my blindness with the brightness of Your presence. Turn all earthly things to bitterness for me, all grievance and adversity to patience, all lowly creation to contempt and oblivion. Raise my heart to You in heaven and suffer me not to wander on earth. From this moment to all eternity do You alone grow sweet to me, for You alone are my food and drink, my love and my joy, my sweetness and my total good.
Let Your presence wholly inflame me, consume and transform me into Yourself, that I may become one spirit with You by the grace of inward union and by the melting power of Your ardent love.
Suffer me not to go from You fasting and thirsty, but deal with me mercifully as You have so often and so wonderfully dealt with Your saints.
What wonder if I were completely inflamed by You to die to myself, since You are the fire ever burning and never dying, a love purifying the heart and enlightening the understanding.
The Imitation Of Christ
Thanks to Meir Yona
Alexandra Reigns Nine Years, During Which Time The Pharisees Were The Real Rulers Of The Nation.
1. Now Alexander left the kingdom to Alexandra his wife, and depended upon it that the Jews would now very readily submit to her, because she had been very averse to such cruelty as he had treated them with, and had opposed his violation of their laws, and had thereby got the good-will of the people. Nor was he mistaken as to his expectations; for this woman kept the dominion, by the opinion that the people had of her piety; for she chiefly studied the ancient customs of her country, and cast those men out of the government that offended against their holy laws. And as she had two sons by Alexander, she made Hyrcanus the elder high priest, on account of his age, as also, besides that, on account of his inactive temper, no way disposing him to disturb the public. But she retained the younger, Aristobulus, with her as a private person, by reason of the warmth of his temper.
2. And now the Pharisees joined themselves to her, to assist her in the government. These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately. low Alexandra hearkened to them to an extraordinary degree, as being herself a woman of great piety towards God. But these Pharisees artfully insinuated themselves into her favor by little and little, and became themselves the real administrators of the public affairs: they banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed [men] at their pleasure; 4 and, to say all at once, they had the enjoyment of the royal authority, whilst the expenses and the difficulties of it belonged to Alexandra. She was a sagacious woman in the management of great affairs, and intent always upon gathering soldiers together; so that she increased the army the one half, and procured a great body of foreign troops, till her own nation became not only very powerful at home, but terrible also to foreign potentates, while she governed other people, and the Pharisees governed her.
3. Accordingly, they themselves slew Diogenes, a person of figure, and one that had been a friend to Alexander; and accused him as having assisted the king with his advice, for crucifying the eight hundred men [before mentioned.] They also prevailed with Alexandra to put to death the rest of those who had irritated him against them. Now she was so superstitious as to comply with their desires, and accordingly they slew whom they pleased themselves. But the principal of those that were in danger fled to Aristobulus, who persuaded his mother to spare the men on account of their dignity, but to expel them out of the city, unless she took them to be innocent; so they were suffered to go unpunished, and were dispersed all over the country. But when Alexandra sent out her army to Damascus, under pretense that Ptolemy was always oppressing that city, she got possession of it; nor did it make any considerable resistance. She also prevailed with Tigranes, king of Armenia, who lay with his troops about Ptolemais, and besieged Cleopatra, 5 by agreements and presents, to go away. Accordingly, Tigranes soon arose from the siege, by reason of those domestic tumults which happened upon Lucullus's expedition into Armenia.
4. In the mean time, Alexandra fell sick, and Aristobulus, her younger son, took hold of this opportunity, with his domestics, of which he had a great many, who were all of them his friends, on account of the warmth of their youth, and got possession of all the fortresses. He also used the sums of money he found in them to get together a number of mercenary soldiers, and made himself king; and besides this, upon Hyrcanus's complaint to his mother, she compassionated his case, and put Aristobulus's wife and sons under restraint in Antonia, which was a fortress that joined to the north part of the temple. It was, as I have already said, of old called the Citadel; but afterwards got the name of Antonia, when Antony was [lord of the East], just as the other cities, Sebaste and Agrippias, had their names changed, and these given them from Sebastus and Agrippa. But Alexandra died before she could punish Aristobulus for his disinheriting his brother, after she had reigned nine years.
by D.H. Stern
19 Those who love quarreling love giving offense;
those who make their gates tall are courting disaster.
20 A crooked-hearted person will find nothing good,
and the perverse of speech will end in calamity.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The delight of despair
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. --- Rev. 1:17.
It may be that like the apostle John you know Jesus Christ intimately, when suddenly He appears with no familiar characteristic at all, and the only thing you can do is to fall at His feet as dead. There are times when God cannot reveal Himself in any other way than in His majesty, and it is the awfulness of the vision which brings you to the delight of despair; if you are ever to be raised up, it must be by the hand of God.
“He laid His right hand upon me.” In the midst of the awfulness, a touch comes, and you know it is the right hand of Jesus Christ. The right hand not of restraint nor of correction nor of chastisement, but the right hand of the Everlasting Father. Whenever His hand is laid upon you, it is ineffable peace and comfort, the sense that “underneath are the everlasting arms,” full of sustaining and comfort and strength. When once His touch comes, nothing at all can cast you into fear again. In the midst of all His ascended glory the Lord Jesus comes to speak to an insignificant disciple, and to say—“Fear not.” His tenderness is ineffably sweet. Do I know Him like that?
Watch some of the things that strike despair. There is despair in which there is no delight, no horizon, no hope of anything brighter; but the delight of despair comes when I know that “in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing.” I delight to know that there is that in me which must fall prostrate before God when He manifests Himself, and if I am ever to be raised up it must be by the hand of God. God can do nothing for me until I get to the limit of the possible.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
A Line From St David's
I am sending you this letter,
Something for neo-Edwardians
Of a test-tube age to grow glum about
In their conditioned libraries.
As I came here by way of Plwmp,
There were hawkweeds in the hedges;
Nature had invested all her gold
In the industry of the soil.
There were larks, too, like a fresh chorus
Of dew, and I thought, remembering Dewi
The water-drinker, the way back
Is not so far as the way forward.
Here the cathedral's bubble of stone
Is still unpricked by the mind's needle,
And the wall lettuce in the crevices
Is as green now as when Giraldus
Altered the colourof his thought
By drinking from the Welsh fountain....
I ramble; what I wanted to say
Was that the day has a blue lining
Partly of sky, partly of sea;
That the old currents are in the grass,
Thought rust has becalmed the plough.
Somewhere a man sharpens a scythe;
A child watches him from the brink
Of his own speech, and this is of more
Importance than all the visitors keeping
A spry saint asleep in his tomb.
The Bread Of Truth
The story is told of a man who offered a rabbi ten thousand dollars to make him a kohen. "You cannot buy that," the rabbi responds. The man returns later, offering the rabbi one hundred thousands dollars. "I'm sure that you very much want to become a kohen," answers the rabbi, "but it's not something I can sell to you." A week later, the same man returns. "Look, rabbi, it'll put me in hock forever, but I'll give you a million dollars to make me a kohen." The rabbi is dumbfounded. "Okay, if it will make you happy, I'll make you a kohen. But tell me: Why is it so important?" "Well, rabbi, my father was a kohen, and his father, and his father before him!"
Of course, the humor here is from the fact that one becomes a kohen automatically. The priesthood in the Bible is through lineage. One needs no qualification other than a father who is a kohen. Until recently in Jewish history, and still today in some quarters, yiḥus—lineage or family background—was extremely important. Marriages were arranged based on one's lineage. A poor young man who was descended from a distinguished sage was a great catch, for he had yiḥus.
In our egalitarian world, we might dispute the validity of this hierarchy and genealogy, claiming that it creates a caste system. Yet, throughout much of Jewish history, some hierarchy has always been accepted. The biblical ideal based on lineage (kohen, levi, Israelite) was eventually replaced by one founded on knowledge (scholar, student, ignoramus). The latter half of this Mishnah presages the development from a lineage-centered hierarchy to a meritocracy based on scholarship.
Today, we might wish to expand on the Mishnah's words. Jewish leadership must be based on Jewish knowledge. Unfortunately, many of us, the descendants of knowledgeable Jews, often rest on our ancestors' laurels. How often have we heard it said, "My grandfather was a rabbi in Europe"? Yet how sad it is when the speaker is so far removed from Jewish life, learning, and observance. That one's grandfather sat and studied all day is interesting. That one's grandchildren become committed, educated Jews is crucial.
We now know that it is not lineage, but learning, that is the key to the continuity of Jewish life in the future. If we remain unschooled in Judaism, then even if we have good yiḥus, we are easily surpassed both in honor and communal prestige by a learned person with no background, and even by one with impaired background like a mamzer. This is a strong motivation to check not only our lineage, where we came from, but also our Jewish learning, where we are going.
From there they set out and encamped beyond the Arnon.… And from there to Beer, which is the well where the Lord said to Moses, "Assemble the people that I may give them water." (Numbers 21:13, 16)
Words of Torah are compared to water … as it says: "Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water" [Isaiah 55:1].… And just as with water, a great man is not ashamed to say to a child: "Bring me a drink of water," so too with Torah—a great man is not embarrassed to say to a child: "Teach me a chapter, or a verse, or a word, or even a letter." (Song of Songs Rabbah 1,3)
Once upon a time, there lived a man, who during his whole life studied nothing but the treatise of Hagigah. When the man died and was about to be buried, a woman dressed in white came up to the corpse and stood in front of it. When the people saw her, they asked her who she was and what was her name. And she replied: "I am Hagigah and I am praying for this man in the other world, for he studied nothing but the treatise Hagigah all his life, and therefore he deserves that I should plead for him in the other world." In the same way, all other good deeds which a man performs in this life plead for him in the world to come. Ma'Aseh Book: Book of Jewish Tales and Legends Vol. II , translated by Moses Gaster. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981, p. 648)
SEDER KODASHIM / Introduction to Seder Kodashim
The fifth section of the Mishnah is Kodashim, or "Holy Things." Its eleven tractates cover the sacrifices that were offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. Interestingly, by the time of the editing of the Mishnah, the Temple had been destroyed for over a century. Nevertheless, the Rabbis of Babylonia saw fit to create a Gemara for nine of these tractates. Perhaps they felt that the Temple would some day be rebuilt, and it was thus critical to lay out the proper procedures for the time when the sacrifices would be reinstituted. Or it is possible that they felt that in the absence of the ability to offer the sacrifices, the best that could be done by Jews was to remember the sacrifices and discuss their details.
The nobleman has taken us [by the hand], and his scent lingers on the hand.
Text / Rav Yitzḥak son of Rav Yehudah used to come regularly before Rami bar Ḥama. He left him and went to Rav Sheshet. One day, he [Rami bar Ḥama] met him [Rav Yitzḥak]. He said to him: "The nobleman has taken us [by the hand], and his scent lingers on the hand. Because you went to Rav Sheshet, do you think you will become like Rav Sheshet?" He [Rav Yitzḥak] said to him: "It was not for that reason! When I asked a question of the Master, you answered me from logic. If I came across a Mishnah, it refuted it. But with Rav Sheshet, if I asked a question of him, he answered me with a Mishnah, so that even if I came across a Mishnah that refuted it, it was only one Mishnah against another Mishnah."
Context / Rav Sheshet especially disparaged those schools which taught students to come up with forced conclusions that were based on hair-splitting logic known as pilpul. In one particular case, Rav Sheshet decided an issue (as was his custom) according to what was taught by "tradition" in a Mishnah. Rav Amram came to offer another interpretation based on forced logic. Rav Sheshet said to him: "You must come from the study house of Pumbeditha, where they pull an elephant through the eye of a needle!"
The Rabbis of the Talmud understood that there were two major sources for their teachings. The first was tradition, which included (1) verses from the Bible, (2) rabbinic lessons found in the Mishnah or baraitot, or (3) precedent. The second source was reason or logic. Tradition was considered by the above text to be a stronger authority than reason.
Rav Yitzḥak had been a student of Rami bar Ḥama; he left his study house and went to stay with Rav Sheshet. Rami bar Ḥama was offended that his pupil had left him for another teacher. Rami accused Rav Yitzḥak of being attracted to Rav Sheshet because of his fame and reputation. He sarcastically tells his former student: You think that when the great man touches you, his scent will linger on your hand. By being with Rav Sheshet, you think you will become like Rav Sheshet. (The word in the folk-saying, translated as "nobleman," alkafta or arkafta, is the title of a high Persian dignitary.)
Rav Yitzḥak replies that it was not Rav Sheshet's fame, but his teaching methodology, that was so attractive. Rav Sheshet insisted on finding the traditional sources for his teachings. Rami, on the other hand, favored logic. Rav Yitzḥak explains that in a conflict between one teaching based on tradition and another teaching based on logic, the former takes precedence. Thus, the methodology of Rav Sheshet is superior to that of Rami. Rav Yitzḥak adds that where traditions, such as two sections of the Mishnah, conflict, it is acceptable to maintain one teaching over the other since they are both of equal authority. Either way, Rav Sheshet's methodology, based on tradition rather than logic, proves to be superior.
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
The Book of Psalms has long been recognized as a guidebook for prayer. As we read the Psalms, there are a number of very personal messages about prayer that come through with clarity and beauty.
It's all right to be human. The Bible tells us that in Creation God viewed man, the culmination of His creative work, and affirmed that work as "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Man, the Bible says, was made in God's image, and we are taught to value our humanity. As people we do bear a certain likeness to the Lord.
Sometimes, aware that sin has entered the race and warped mankind out of the intended pattern, Christians have come to view their humanity with shame and guilt rather than pride. A person who tends to locate the identity of mankind in our character as sinners, rather than in our nature as those who bear God's image, is likely to repress human feelings and emotions. Struggling for "control," such people may be uncomfortable with strong emotions and may attempt to hold them down or to deny them.
The Bible really does teach us to affirm our value and worth as human beings. Psalm 8 speaks in wonder that God should have created man "a little lower than the heavenly beings" and "crowned him with glory and honor." Hebrews 2:10 echoes the thought that we are never to let slip the awareness that God's intention in Christ is to bring "many sons to glory." Christ calls Himself our brother; He was "made like His brethren in all things" (Hebrews 2:17). Far from being ashamed of his humanity, the Christian is free to rejoice in who he is, knowing that in Creation and in redemption God has affirmed our worth.
Such teaching passages might help us grasp this affirmation about man intellectually. But we are gripped by it when we read the Psalms! For here we see our own inner experiences openly shared without shame or hesitation, and we discover that God values man's inner life enough to record this dynamic record of it in His own Word.
When we read the Psalms and see in them our own emotions and struggles, we find a great release. It is all right to be human. It is all right to be ourselves. We need not fear what is within us or repress the feeling side of life.
There's a way out. One reason why emotions frighten us is that many people do not know how to express or release them. In our culture, the recognition and expression of feelings is not encouraged—especially of negative feelings. Feelings are feared. To feel anger well up within and to sense that we're on the verge of losing control is a frightening thing.
For Christians there is the added pressure of the notion that it's wrong to feel anger or sense tension. "If only I were a good Christian," we're liable to tell ourselves. "If only I were really trusting the Lord." So we feel guilt over the emotions that well up, and then, all too often, we try to deny this very important aspect of personhood.
Reading the Psalms carefully, however, we note that they often trace a process in which the writer begins with strong and almost uncontrollable feelings. We see how he struggles with them, and we see how he brings his feelings to God or relates them to what he knows of the Lord and His ways. In reading Psalms, you and I can learn how to handle our emotions creatively, and how to relate feelings to faith.
Psalm 73 is a good example of this "working through" process. It begins with the writer confessing that he has become envious of the wicked—certainly not an unusual experience when we face difficulties and then see everything going well for the person who cares nothing about God!
The psalmist shares:
I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from the burdens
common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.…
They say, "How can God know?
Does the Most High have knowledge?"
This is what the wicked are like
they increase in wealth.
Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been plagued;
I have been punished every Morning.
--- Psalm 73:3–6, 11–14.
How hard it seemed! What good was it to be good? Frustration, envy, self-pity—all had gripped Asaph, the Levite who wrote this psalm, and who now faced rather than repressed his inner state.
The passage goes on to explain how the writer handled these feelings. First of all, he tried to think the problem through, but "it was oppressive to me" (Psalm 73:16). He went to God with his problem, to pray at His sanctuary. There God gave him an answer. Asaph's thoughts were directed to the end toward which the sinner's life leads.
Surely You place them on slippery places;
You cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly they are destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
As a dream when one awakes,
so when You arise, O Lord,
You will despise them as fantasies.
--- Psalm 73:18–20.
The easy life of the scoffers had led them to forget God, and their success had not permitted them to sense their need of Him. The very wealth and ease which Asaph had envied were "slippery" places that Asaph's trials helped him to avoid!
This new perspective changed Asaph's feelings. His past feelings were "senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You" (Psalm 73:22). His emotional reactions in this case had not corresponded with reality. Yet, when God showed Asaph reality, his emotions changed.
Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
You will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And being with You,
I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
--- Psalm 73:23–26.
Real life always holds such struggles for us. There is nothing wrong with them. The emotions we feel then are not bad; they are part of being a human being. The glory of the believer's privilege is that, because he knows God, his emotions can be brought into fullest harmony with reality. You and I can face all of our feelings—and find freedom to be ourselves with the Lord. What a privilege to be ourselves with God, and to experience His gentle transformation!
We can be honest with God. This is a third great message of Psalms. Just as we need not repress our feelings, we need not try to hide our feelings from God. He loves us and accepts us as we are—yet always so creatively that we are free to grow toward all that we want to become.
How freeing to realize that God's love is unconditional. He is concerned about every aspect of our lives, inviting us to share all that we are with Him, that in return He might share Himself with us and bring us to health and wholeness.
Psalms, then, speaks directly to our inner lives. The patterns of relationship we find there guide you and me in our prayer lives.
Like the poetry of other peoples, Hebrew poetry is not designed so much to communicate information as to share the inner life and feelings of its writers.
This characteristic of the Psalms is very important to us, and is a dynamic aspect of divine revelation. Through the Psalms we are able to see the men and women of Scripture as real people, gripped by the feelings that move us. We are also able to sense a relationship with God that is deeply personal and real. Every dimension of the human personality is touched when faith establishes that personal relationship. God meets us as whole persons—He touches our feelings, our emotions, our joys and sorrows, our despair and depression. Faith in God is not just an intellectual kind of thing; it is a relationship which engages everything that we are. Thus, in the Psalms we have a picture of the relationship to which God is calling us today—a relationship in which we have freedom to be ourselves, and to share ourselves freely with the Lord and with other believers.
The Teacher's Commentary
Wings ... Remember what Jesus said to Jerusalem? I like the following:
Often our finest and most effective songs are sung during the midnight experiences of life. It is easy to sing when all is well. But to sing when all is dark requires the indwelling presence of Christ. Luther Bridgers, a Methodist pastor and evangelist from Georgia, is believed to have written both words and music for this joyful hymn in 1910, following the death of his wife and three sons in a fire at the home of his wife's parents while he was away conducting revival meetings in Kentucky.
There's within my heart a melody—Jesus whispers sweet and low,
"Fear not, I am with thee—peace, be still," in all of life's ebb and flow.
All my life was wrecked by sin and strife. Discord filled my heart with pain;
Jesus swept across the broken strings, stirred the slumb'ring chords again.
Feasting on the riches of His grace, resting 'neath His shelt'ring wing,
always looking on His smiling face—That is why I shout and sing.
Tho sometimes He leads thru waters deep, trials fall across the way,
tho sometimes the path seem rough and steep, see His feet-prints all the way.
Soon He's coming back to welcome me far beyond the starry sky;
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown; I shall reign with Him on high.
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Judaism in the Land of Israel
One can go further. Jews had access even to cultural life in the upper echelons of Hellenistic society. Jewish authors were well versed in most, perhaps all, forms of Hellenic writings. Those conversant with the conventions included epic poets like Theodotus and Philo, tragic dramatists like Ezekiel, writers of history like Demetrius and Eupolemus, philosophers like Aristobulus, composers of novellas and historical fiction like the authors of the Letter of Aristeas, 3 Maccabees, and Joseph and Aseneth, and those who engaged in cosmology and mythography like Pseudo-Eupolemus, and the authors of the Sibylline Oracles. The capacity to produce such works demonstrates that the writers could partake of higher education and engage deeply with Hellenic cultural traditions. They were themselves an integral part of the intelligentsia. Most of the names known to us come from Alexandria. But, as we have seen, gymnasium education was available to Jews elsewhere and doubtless spawned writers whose reputations do not survive.
Jewish writers clearly showed a wide familiarity with the genres, forms, and styles of Greek literature. They wrote in Greek and they adapted Greek literary modes. But they employed those conventions to their own ends. Jewish intellectuals may have embraced Hellenic canons of literature, but they had no interest in recounting the tale of Troy, the labors of Herakles, the house of Atreus, or the Greco-Persian wars, let alone the myths of the Olympian gods. Their heroes were Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. They appropriated Hellenism to the goals of rewriting biblical narratives, recasting the traditions of their forefathers, reinvigorating their ancient legends, and shaping the distinctive identity of Jews within the larger world of Hellenic culture. The challenge for the Jews was not how to surmount barriers, cross boundaries, or assimilate to an alien society. In a world where Hellenic culture held an ascendant position, they strove to present Judaic traditions and express their own self-definition through the media of the Greeks—and even to make those media their own.
A particularly striking example can illuminate the point. Tragic drama is perhaps the quintessential Greek medium. This did not render it off limits to the Jews. The Alexandrian writer Ezekiel, working within the tradition of classical tragedy, produced a play, the Exagōgē, based on the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Ezekiel hewed closely to the narrative line contained in the book of Exodus, while employing the conventions of the Greek theater. But he inserted some creativity of his own. This included a remarkable scene in which Moses recounts a dream vision of God sitting on a throne, summoning Moses to him, handing over his diadem and scepter, and departing. The dramatist here not only exalts the grandeur of Moses but reconceives Moses’ relationship with God. The celestial realm appears as analogous to royal governance on earth. Moses’ ascension to the throne and acquisition of kingly emblems signal his appointment as YHWH’s surrogate in governing the affairs of men. This had clear resonance to the contemporaries of Ezekiel. Moses’ role as executor of God’s will on earth, with absolute authority, reflected royal rule in the Hellenistic realms. The author thus reinvents the position of Moses on the model of Hellenistic kingship while making him the precursor of Hellenistic kingship itself. Moses as supreme judge would expound the Law for all nations. The Israelite hero becomes a beacon for humankind, a representative of the divinity, described in phraseology that struck responsive chords among Ezekiel’s Hellenic or Hellenized compatriots. The tragic poet had effectively commandeered a preeminent Greek genre and deployed it as a source of esteem for his Jewish readership.
Another celebrated composition illustrates both the intersection of Jew and Gentile in the Diaspora and the emphasis on the special qualities of the Jews. The Letter of Aristeas was drafted by a Hellenized Jew from Alexandria, probably in the second century B.C.E. It purports to recount the events that led to the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. That undertaking came about in Alexandria around the middle of the third century, an episode of the highest importance for Diaspora Jewry. The need for a Greek Bible itself holds critical significance. It indicates that many Jews dwelling in the scattered communities of the Mediterranean had lost their mastery of Hebrew but nonetheless clung to the centerpiece of their tradition. If they were to read the Bible, it would have to be in Greek. The initial rendering or renderings eventually congealed into what became known as the Septuagint. For the vast majority of Jews living in the Greco-Roman period, it was the Bible.
The Letter of Aristeas ascribes the translation’s origin to the initiative of the court of Ptolemy II, ruler of Egypt in the mid-third century. As the narrative has it, the impetus came from the chief librarian in Alexandria, who persuaded King Ptolemy to authorize the addition of “the laws of the Jews,” evidently the Pentateuch, to the shelves of the great library. This required translation, for the available Hebrew texts were carelessly and improperly drawn up. Ptolemy composed a letter to the high priest in Jerusalem, requesting translators. The high priest graciously complied and selected seventy-two Jewish scholars, six from each tribe, experts in both languages, to do the job. The Jewish sages reached Alexandria, where they were warmly welcomed, Ptolemy himself paying homage to the sacred scrolls that they had conveyed from Jerusalem. Indeed, he went beyond that to organize a seven-day banquet (serving kosher food!), during which the king put a different question to each of his seventy-two guests, largely concerning the appropriate means of governing wisely, and found reason to praise every one of them for his sagacity. The translators then repaired to the island of Pharos, where they went to work, periodically comparing drafts, agreed upon a common version, and completed their task in precisely seventy-two days. The priests and leaders of the Jewish community in Alexandria pronounced it a definitive version, not a line of it to be altered. Ptolemy joined them in admiration, paid reverence to the new Bible, and lavished gifts upon the Jewish scholars.
Such is the gist of the tale. None can doubt that it issued from the pen of a Jewish author cloaked in the garb of a learned official at the court of Ptolemy II. The particulars, of course, are largely, if not entirely, fictitious. But the author’s creation holds high significance. The Letter of Aristeas offers a showcase for the familiarity of Jewish intellectuals with diverse features and forms of Greek learning from ethnographic excursuses to textual exegesis and allegorical interpretation. The author is plainly steeped in Hellenic literature. On the face of it, this treatise would seem to be the most telling attestation of a cultural convergence between Judaism and Hellenism—at least as viewed from the Jewish side. The Hellenistic monarch promotes the project, and the Jewish scholars carry it out. The translators act at the behest of the king to enhance the pagan library, while the king pays deep homage to the sacred books of Israel. The pseudonymous narrator, Aristeas, even declares to Ptolemy that the Jews revere God, overseer and creator of all, who is worshipped by everyone, including the Greeks, except that they give him a different name, Zeus.
Yet cross-cultural harmony and blending do not tell the whole story. Another dimension carries equal importance. The Letter of Aristeas, while fully conversant with Hellenic literary genres, adapted that knowledge to advertise the advantages of Jewish tradition. The distinctiveness of the Jews is never in question. The god to whom all bear witness, even though the Greeks may call him Zeus, is the Jewish god. The high priest happily sends Jewish scholars to Alexandria to render the Bible into Greek, but he reminds the Greeks of the superiority of the Jewish faith, ridiculing those who worship idols of wood and stone fashioned by themselves. He insists that Mosaic Law insulated the Hebrews from outside influences, erecting firm barriers to prevent the infiltration of tainted institutions. And the high priest observes that the Jews offer sacrifice to God to insure the peace and renown of the Ptolemaic kingdom—a neat reversal of the patron-client relationship.
One can go further. The seven-day symposium may have been a fundamentally Hellenic practice, but the Jewish sages answered every query by the king with swift and pithy answers, adding a reference to God in each response, and earning the admiration not only of Ptolemy and his courtiers but of all the Greek philosophers in attendance, who acknowledged their inferiority to the sagacity of the guests. Ptolemy applauds and commends every answer by a Jew, no matter how commonplace and banal. The king hardly emerges as discerning or discriminating. The Letter of Aristeas, to be sure, portrays Ptolemy as a wise, gentle, and generous ruler, a man of deep cultivation and learning. But the author carries his portrait somewhat beyond the sober and the plausible. He makes Ptolemy deferential to a fault. The king bows no fewer than seven times to the Hebrew scrolls upon their arrival in Alexandria, even bursts into tears at the sight of them, and then proclaims that the date of their arrival would henceforth be celebrated as an annual festival. The author extends this form of caricature to the Greek philosophers as well, turning them into awestruck witnesses of the superiority of Jewish learning. In short, the Letter of Aristeas, that quintessential text of harmony and collaboration between Jew and Gentile in a Diaspora setting, simultaneously underscores the distinctive character—and the precedence—of Jewish values.
The very idea of rendering the Hebrew Bible into Greek has profound significance for the Diaspora. The historicity of the tale in the Letter of Aristeas is a secondary issue. Ptolemy II may or may not have had a hand in its creation. His reputation for learning made him a logical figure to whom a later writer could ascribe such an initiative. The need of Jews abroad to comprehend the holy books and laws of their tradition in the language that was now their own played a greater role. And, more fundamentally, the work of translation represents a signal instance of Jewish pride and self-esteem. It signified that the Jews had a legitimate claim on a place in the prevailing culture of the Mediterranean. Their Scriptures did not belong to an isolated and marginal group. They contained the record and principles of a people whose roots went back to distant antiquity but who maintained their prestige and authority in a contemporary society—and in a contemporary language. That may be the clearest sign that the Jews perceived themselves as an integral part of the Hellenistic cultural world.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? --- 1 Corinthians 3:16.
Christians are the temple of God; the Spirit of God dwells in them. (RS Thomas Preached Before the University of Oxford : [First Series, 1865]) The Day of Pentecost was not to be deemed a day apart; it was merely the first day of the Christian centuries. The tongues of fire might no longer be visible, but the gift that they symbolized would remain. The Spirit, being the Spirit of Christ, had made the life of Christ to be forever in Christendom nothing less than a reality of the present. Christians know themselves to be temples of the indwelling Presence. From the moral pressure of this conviction there is no escape except by a point-blank denial of it.
We need motives, strong motives, one and all of us. We need them for purposes of action and for purposes of dogged resistance. We need them to counteract all that gives way and depresses from within and to oppose all that would crush our wills into culpable acquiescence from without. A few primal truths, to us clear, indisputable, cogent, again and again examined and proved and burnished like well-prized weapons—these are assuredly part of the inner furniture of every Christian. And among these none is better than that of the text—the motive that appeals to the sanctity, the responsibility, the powers, the capabilities implied in that inward presence of the eternal Spirit, which is the great gift of the new covenant. In moments of moral surprise, in moments of unusual depression, in moments of a felt sense of isolation that threatens to take the heart out of us, in moments of spasmodic daring, when ordinary sanctions have, as it seems, lost their hold on us, it is well to fall back on the reassuring, tranquilizing, invigorating resources of such an appeal, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” Let us emblazon these words, if not on the walls of our churches, yet at least within the sanctuary of that inner temple where the All-Seeing notes our opportunities for acquiring a clear vision and a firm grasp of truth and, still more, the use that we really make of it.
--- H. P. Liddon
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Storm Greater: Afraid! May 24
“Even when I am afraid,” said the psalmist, “I keep on trusting you” (Psalm 56:3). John Wesley had never been so frightened as on January 25, 1736. He was aboard a small sailing ship somewhere in the mid-Atlantic in midwinter, en route to Georgia as a missionary to the Indians, though as yet he himself had never been saved. A group of Moravian missionaries from Germany had booked passage on the same ship. The voyage was treacherous. Three storms had already battered the boat, and a fourth was brewing. Wesley scribbled in his journal, “Storm greater: afraid!” But the Moravians, showing no fear, persevered in their plans for a worship service. In the middle of their singing, a gigantic wave rose over the side of the vessel, splitting the mainsail, covering the ship, pouring water like Niagara between decks “as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.”
The English passengers screamed as the ship lurched and pitched between towering waves. Wesley clung on for dear life. But the German missionaries didn’t miss a note. Wesley, awestruck by their composure, went to the leader and asked, “Weren’t you afraid?”
“I thank God, no.”
“Were not your women and children afraid?”
“No,” replied the man. “Our women and children are not afraid.”
John Wesley’s missionary labors in Georgia failed, and he returned to England saying, “I went to America to convert the Indians, but, oh, who shall convert me?” The Moravians, that’s who. Back in London, Wesley attended a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, May 24, 1738, and listened to someone reading from Luther’s preface to Romans. He later said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine.”
Wesley became a famous evangelist and social reformer, with the world as his parish. But he himself was won to Christ by the power of a small group whose commitment to Christ was strong enough to keep them unflappable in a storm.
Have pity, God Most High! My enemies chase me all day. Many of them are pursuing and attacking me, But even when I am afraid, I keep on trusting you. I praise your promises! I trust you and am not afraid.
--- Psalm 56:1-4a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - May 24
“Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer.” --- Psalm 66:20.
In looking back upon the character of our prayers, if we do it honestly, we shall be filled with wonder that God has ever answered them. There may be some who think their prayers worthy of acceptance—as the Pharisee did; but the true Christian, in a more enlightened retrospect, weeps over his prayers, and if he could retrace his steps he would desire to pray more earnestly. Remember, Christian, how cold thy prayers have been. When in thy closet thou shouldst have wrestled as Jacob did; but instead thereof, thy petitions have been faint and few—far removed from that humble, believing, persevering faith, which cries, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” Yet, wonderful to say, God has heard these cold prayers of thine, and not only heard, but answered them. Reflect also, how infrequent have been thy prayers, unless thou hast been in trouble, and then thou hast gone often to the mercy-seat: but when deliverance has come, where has been thy constant supplication? Yet, notwithstanding thou hast ceased to pray as once thou didst, God has not ceased to bless. When thou hast neglected the mercy-seat, God has not deserted it, but the bright light of the Shekinah has always been visible between the wings of the cherubim. Oh! it is marvellous that the Lord should regard those intermittent spasms of importunity which come and go with our necessities. What a God is he thus to hear the prayers of those who come to him when they have pressing wants, but neglect him when they have received a mercy; who approach him when they are forced to come, but who almost forget to address him when mercies are plentiful and sorrows are few. Let his gracious kindness in hearing such prayers touch our hearts, so that we may henceforth be found “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.”
Evening - May 24
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ.” --- Philippians 1:27.
The word “conversation” does not merely mean our talk and converse with one another, but the whole course of our life and behaviour in the world. The Greek word signifies the actions and the privileges of citizenship: and thus we are commanded to let our actions, as citizens of the New Jerusalem, be such as becometh the Gospel of Christ. What sort of conversation is this? In the first place, the Gospel is very simple. So Christians should be simple and plain in their habits. There should be about our manner, our speech, our dress, our whole behaviour, that simplicity which is the very soul of beauty. The Gospel is pre-eminently true, it is gold without dross; and the Christian’s life will be lustreless and valueless without the jewel of truth. The Gospel is a very fearless Gospel, it boldly proclaims the truth, whether men like it or not: we must be equally faithful and unflinching. But the Gospel is also very gentle. Mark this spirit in its Founder: “a bruised reed he will not break.” Some professors are sharper than a thorn-hedge; such men are not like Jesus. Let us seek to win others by the gentleness of our words and acts. The Gospel is very loving. It is the message of the God of love to a lost and fallen race. Christ’s last command to his disciples was, “Love one another.” O for more real, hearty union and love to all the saints; for more tender compassion towards the souls of the worst and vilest of men! We must not forget that the Gospel of Christ is holy. It never excuses sin: it pardons it, but only through an atonement. If our life is to resemble the Gospel, we must shun, not merely the grosser vices, but everything that would hinder our perfect conformity to Christ. For his sake, for our own sakes, and for the sakes of others, we must strive day by day to let our conversation be more in accordance with his Gospel.
Morning and Evening
Elizabeth Codner, 1824–1919
He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. (Psalm 72:6)
The spiritual blessings of a Spirit-filled life are intended for every believer, not just for a favored few.
The author of this hymn text was Elizabeth Codner, the wife of an Anglican clergyman. She was having her personal devotions one day when she became deeply impressed with a verse of Scripture, Ezekiel 34:26:
I will cause the shower to come down in the season, there shall be showers of blessing.
Mrs. Codner thought about the importance of water in the dry country of Palestine and related this to the necessity of the daily refreshment of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures in a believer’s life. When she was still contemplating this truth, a group of young people from the parish called on her and told the news of their recent trip to Ireland. They related that certain cities and areas of the Emerald Isle had experienced a spiritual awakening during the time of their visit. The young people were thrilled to have been witnesses of this event. As they were describing their experience, Mrs. Codner began to pray that these young men would not be content merely to have been spectators of the Holy Spirit’s ministry but would also desire a genuine outpouring of His power in their individual lives. With the words of Ezekiel 34:26 in mind, she challenged them with the remark, “While the Lord is pouring out such showers of blessing upon others, pray that some drops will fall on you.”
The following Sunday Morning, Mrs. Codner stayed home from church because of illness, and with the impact of the young people’s experience still fresh in her mind, she penned these challenging words.
Lord, I hear of show’rs of blessing Thou art scatt’ring full and free; show’rs the thirsty land refreshing—let some drops now fall on me.
Love of God so pure and changeless, blood of Christ so rich and free, grace of God so strong and boundless: magnify them all in me.
Pass me not! Thy lost one bringing, bind my heart, O Lord, to Thee; while the streams of life are springing, blessing others, O bless me.
Refrain: Even me, even me, let Thy blessing fall on me.
For Today: Psalm 72; Ezekiel 34:26–31; Luke 11:13; Romans 8:4.
Recall and reflect on individuals whose lives have strongly evidenced the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. Ask God in faith to make this your portion as well. Pray as you go ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XXXIV. — BUT as you say — “what therefore shall we do? The Church is hidden, the Saints are unknown! What, and whom shall we believe? Or, as you most sharply dispute, who will certify us? How shall we search out the Spirit? If we look to erudition, all are rabbins! If we look to life, all are sinners! If we look to the Scripture, they each claim it as belonging to them! But however, our discussion is not so much concerning the Scripture (which is not itself sufficiently clear,) but concerning the sense of the Scripture. And though there are men of every order at hand, yet, as neither numbers, nor erudition, nor dignity, is of any service to the subject, much less can paucity, ignorance, and mean rank avail any thing.” —
Well then! I suppose the matter must be left in doubt, and the point of dispute remain before the judge so that, we should seem to act with policy if we should go over to the sentiments of the Sceptics. Unless, indeed, we were to act as you wisely do, for you pretend that you are so much in doubt, that you professedly desire to seek and learn the truth; while, at the same time, you cleave to those who assert “Freewill,” until the truth be made glaringly manifest.
But no! I here in reply to you observe, that you neither say all, nor nothing. For we shall not search out the Spirit by the arguments of erudition, of life, of talent, of multitude, of dignity, of ignorance, of inexperience, of paucity, or of meanness of rank. And yet, I do not approve of those, whose whole resource is in a boasting of the Spirit. For I had the last year, and have still, a sharp warfare with those fanatics who subject the Scriptures to the interpretation of their own boasted spirit. On the same account also, I have hitherto determinately set myself against the Pope, in whose kingdom, nothing is more common, or more generally received than this saying: — ‘that the Scriptures are obscure and ambiguous, and that the Spirit, as the Interpreter, should be sought from the apostolical see of Rome!’ than which, nothing could be said that was more destructive; for by means of this saying, a set of impious men have exalted themselves above the Scriptures themselves; and by the same, have done whatever pleased them; till at length, the Scriptures are absolutely trodden under foot, and we compelled to believe and teach nothing but the dreams of men that are mad. In a word, that saying is no human invention, but a poison poured forth into the world by a wonderful malice of the devil himself, the prince of all demons.
We hold the case thus: — that the spirits are to be tried and proved by a twofold judgment. The one, internal; by which, through the Holy Spirit, or a peculiar gift of God, any one may illustrate, and to a certainty, judge of, and determine on, the doctrines and sentiments of all men, for himself and his own personal salvation concerning which it is said. (1 Cor. ii. 15.) “The spiritual man judgeth all things, but he himself is judged of no man.” This belongs to faith, and is necessary for every, even private, Christian. This, we have above called, ‘the internal clearness of the Holy Scripture.’ And it was this perhaps to which they alluded, who, in answer to you said, that all things must be determined by the judgment of the Spirit. But this judgment cannot profit another, nor are we speaking of this judgment in our present discussion; for no one, I think, doubts its reality.
The other, then, is the external judgment; by which, we judge, to the greatest certainty, of the spirits and doctrines of all men; not for ourselves only, but for others also, and for their salvation. This judgment is peculiar to the public ministry of the Word and the external office, and especially belongs to teachers and preachers of the Word. Of this we make use, when we strengthen the weak in faith, and when we refute adversaries. This is what we before called, ‘the external clearness of the Holy Scripture.’ Hence we affirm that all spirits are to be proved in the face of the church, by the judgment of Scripture. For this ought, above all things, to be received, and most firmly settled among Christians: — that the Holy Scriptures are a spiritual light by far more clear than the sun itself, especially in those things which pertain unto salvation or necessity.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
11 “Surely Goodness and Love Will Follow Me . . .”
Throughout the study of this psalm, continuous emphasis has been put upon the care exercised by the attentive sheepman. It has been stressed how essential to the welfare of the sheep is the rancher’s diligent effort and labor. All the benefits enjoyed by a flock under skilled and loving management have been drawn in bold lines.
Now all of this is summed up here by the psalmist in one brave but simple statement: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”!
The sheep with such a shepherd knows of a surety that his is a privileged position. No matter what comes, at least and always he can be perfectly sure that goodness and mercy will be in the picture. He reassures himself that he is ever under sound, sympathetic, intelligent ownership. What more need he care about? Goodness and mercy will be the treatment he receives from his master’s expert, loving hands.
Not only is this a bold statement, but it is somewhat of a boast, an exclamation of implicit confidence in the One who controls his career and destiny.
How many Christians actually feel this way about Christ? How many of us are truly convinced that no matter what occurs in our lives we are being followed by goodness and mercy? Of course it is very simple to speak this way when things are going well. If my health is excellent, my income is flourishing, my family is well, and my friends are fond of me, it is not hard to say, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.”
But what about when one’s body breaks down? What do I say when I stand by helpless, as I have had to do, and watch a life partner die by degrees under appalling pain? What is my reaction when my job folds up and there is no money to meet bills? What happens if my children can’t make their grades in school or get caught running with the wrong gang? What do I say when suddenly, without good grounds, friends prove false and turn against me?
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ESV
Psalm 34:17 When the righteous cry for help,
the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near
to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. ESV
Psalm 9:9 The LORD is a stronghold
for the oppressed,
in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name
put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD,
have not forsaken those who seek you. ESV
Psalm 32:7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me
with shouts of deliverance.
2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; ESV
These are the sort of times that test a person’s confidence in the care of Christ. These are the occasions during which the chips are down and life is more than a list of pious platitudes. When my little world is falling apart and the dream castles of my ambitions and hopes crumble into ruins, can I honestly declare, “Surely—yes, surely—goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”? Or is this sheer humbug and a maddening mockery?
Psalm 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
In looking back over my own life, in the light of my love and care for my sheep, I can see again and again a similar compassion and concern for me in my Master’s management of my affairs. There were events, which at the time seemed like utter calamities; there were paths down which He led me that appeared like blind alleys; there were days He took me through which were well-nigh black as night itself. But all in the end turned out for my benefit and my well-being.
With my limited understanding as a finite human being I could not always comprehend His management executed in infinite wisdom. With my natural tendencies to fear, worry, and ask “why,” it was not always simple to assume that He really did know what He was doing with me. There were times I was tempted to panic, to bolt, and to leave His care. Somehow I had the strange, stupid notion I could survive better on my own. Most men and women do.
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD
with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones. ESV
But despite this perverse behavior I am so glad He did not give up. I am so grateful He did follow me in goodness and mercy. The only possible motivation was His own love, His care and concern for me as one of His sheep. And despite my doubts, despite my misgivings about His management of my affairs, He has picked me up and borne me back again in great tenderness.
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” ESV
As I see all of this in retrospect, I realize that for the one who is truly in Christ’s care, no difficulty can arise, no dilemma emerge, no seeming disaster descend on life without eventual good coming out of the chaos. This is to see the goodness and mercy of my Master in my life. It has become the great foundation of my faith and confidence in Him.
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ESV
I love Him because He first loved me.
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. ESV
His goodness and mercy and compassion to me are new every day. And my assurance is lodged in these aspects of His character.
Lamentations 3:23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” ESV
My trust is in His love for me as His own.
My serenity has as its basis an implicit, unshakable reliance on His ability to do the right thing, the best thing in any given situation.
This to me is the supreme portrait of my Shepherd. Continually there flows out to me His goodness and His mercy, which, even though I do not deserve them, come unremittingly from their source of supply—His own great heart of love.
Herein is the essence of all that has gone before in this psalm.
All the care, all the work, all the alert watchfulness, all the skill, all the concern, all the self-sacrifice are born of His love—the love of One who loves His sheep, loves His work, loves His role as a Shepherd.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ESV
1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. ESV
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
Skip Heitzig 2005