Nehemiah 4 - 6
Opposition to the WorkNehemiah 4:1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
The Work Resumes15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.
Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the PoorNehemiah 5:1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
Nehemiah’s Generosity14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Conspiracy Against NehemiahNehemiah 6:1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
The Wall Is Finished15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17 Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. 19 Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.
ESV Study Bible
What I'm Reading
By Don Carson 5/25/2018
“How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:40-41). Thus Asaph pauses in the course of his recital to summarize one of his main points in this Psalm. In fact, one could outline some of the dramatic points Asaph makes as follows:
(1) The repeated rebellion of the people of God is presented not merely as disobedience, but as putting God to the test. That is one of the elements in rebellion that is so gross, so odious. A heavy dose of “in your face” marks this rebellion, an ugly pattern of unbelief that implicitly charges God with powerlessness, with cruelty, with selfishness, with thoughtlessness, with foolishness. Chronic and repeated unbelief “with attitude” always has this element of putting God to the test. What will God do about it? Small wonder that the apostle Paul identifies the same pattern in the conduct of the people during the wilderness years and warns Christians in his day, “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 10:9-11).
(2) Although the first part of the chapter notes God’s wrath replying to the pattern of the people’s rebellion, it also insists that time after time God “restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath”(78:38). But the pattern now becomes grimmer. Eventually the idolatry was so gross that God “was very angry; he rejected Israel completely” (78:59). The context shows that what Asaph had in mind is the judgment of God on the people when he permitted the ark of the Lord to be captured by the Philistines: “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy” (78:61; cf. 1 Sam. 4:5-11), with the entailment that the people faced terrible destruction at the hand of their enemies.
(3) The closing verses (78:65-72) focus on the gracious choice of Judah and of David as God’s answer to the wretched years of the wilderness, of the judges, of the reign of Saul. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (78:72). Living this side of the Incarnation, Christians are especially grateful for David’s line.
(4) Christians know how the storyline of Psalm 78 develops. David’s dynasty descends into corruption; God’s wrath is greater yet, and the Exile ensues. But worse wrath, and more glorious love, were yet to be displayed in the cross.
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 55Cast Your Burden on the LORD
55 To The Choirmaster: With Stringed Instruments. A Maskil Of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2 Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3 because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”
By Gleason Archer Jr.
Deliverance of Jewish race from genocide (Plotted by Haman in the reign of Xerxes)
Feast of Dedication
Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple Cleansed by Maccabean patriots in 165 b.c.
1 Macc. 4:52–59
Impressive confirmation of the historical accuracy of the author of Esther has been found in an inscription of Artaxerxes II which states that the palace of Xerxes was destroyed by fire in the reign of Artaxerxes I. This would mean that within thirty years of the time of Esther, the palace in which she lived would have been destroyed, and in the natural course of events, a recollection of it would have passed away. It is difficult to suppose that any late romancer would have had any knowledge of a building which had been destroyed so long before his own time. Excavations of French archaeologists have uncovered the remains of this palace and show that it agrees perfectly in ground plan with the structure presupposed in the book of Esther (cf. ISBE, p. 1009a).
In conclusion, it should be observed that there is no other reasonable explanation for the historic fact of the Feast of Purim as observed among the Jews except that such a remarkable deliverance of the nation from extinction actually took place in history. There would have been absolutely no motive for manufacturing such a story as this unless it was based upon an actual occurrence. The name Purim is unimpeachably authentic, for the term puru, meaning “lot,” has been discovered in Assyrian inscriptions.
A Survey of Old Testament Introduction
The Destruction of Sennacherib
By Lord Byron
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
Paul, Romans, and Homosexuality
By Greg Koukl 11/01/2003
The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans contains what most readers consider the Bible’s clearest condemnation of same-sex relations. Recent scholarship reads the same verses and finds just the opposite. Who is right? Reconstructing Romans Romans 1:18-27 Born Gay? Natural Desire or Natural Function?
To most readers, the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans contains the Bible’s clearest condemnation of same-sex relations—both male and female. Recent scholarship, though, reads the same text and finds just the opposite—that homosexuality is innate and therefore normal, moral, and biblical.
According to the new view, Paul, the religious Jew, is looking across the Mediterranean at life in the capital of Greco-Roman culture. Homosexuality itself is not the focus of condemnation. Rather, Paul’s criticism falls upon paganism’s refusal to acknowledge the true God.
It’s also possible Paul did not understand the physiological basis of genuine homosexuality. John Boswell, professor of history at Yale, is among those who differ with the classical interpretation. In Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality he writes:
The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: What he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons....It is not clear that Paul distinguished in his thoughts or writings between gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior. It is in fact unlikely that many Jews of his day recognized such a distinction, but it is quite apparent that—whether or not he was aware of their existence—Paul did not discuss gay persons, but only homosexual acts committed by heterosexual persons. [emphasis in the original]
Paul is speaking to those who violate their natural sexual orientation, Boswell contends, those who go against their own natural desire: “‘Nature’ in Romans 1:26, then, should be understood as the personal nature of the pagans in question.”  [emphasis in the original]
Since a homosexual’s natural desire is for the same sex, this verse doesn’t apply to him. He has not chosen to set aside heterosexuality for homosexuality; the orientation he was born with is homosexual. Demanding that he forsake his “sin” and become heterosexual is actually the kind of violation of one’s nature Paul condemns here.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Let me start by making two observations. First, this is about God being mad: “For the wrath of God [orge] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”
Second, there is a specific progression that leads to this “orgy” of anger. First, men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). Then they exchanged “the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). Next, “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v. 24). They “exchanged the natural [sexual] function for that which is unnatural (v. 26). Therefore, the wrath of God rightly falls on them (v. 18); they are without excuse (v. 20).
This text is a crystal clear condemnation of homosexuality by the Apostle Paul in the middle of his most brilliant discourse on general revelation. Paul is not speaking to a localized aberration of pedophilia or temple prostitution that’s part of life in the capital of Greco-Roman culture. He is talking about a universal condition of man.
Regarding the same-sex behavior itself, here are the specific words Paul uses: a lust of the heart, an impurity that is dishonoring to the body (v. 24); an indecent act and an error (v. 27); a degrading passion that’s unnatural (v. 29); not proper and the product of a depraved mind (v. 28).
There’s only one way the clear sense of this passage can be missed: if someone is in total revolt against God, which is precisely Paul’s point. According to the apostle, homosexual behavior is evidence of active, persistent rebellion against one’s Creator. Verse 32 shows it’s rooted in direct, willful, aggressive sedition against God—true of all so-called Christians who are defending their own homosexuality. God’s response is explicit: “They are without excuse” (v. 20).
There are four specific reasons this is a bad argument. The first three are compelling; the fourth is unassailable.
First, regarding the claim that homosexuals were “born that way,” there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is biologically determined. None.  In spite of the hasty and oft-repeated claims of the press, all researchers uniformly report they have failed to show that homosexuality is biologically innate.
Simon LeVay, a homosexual himself, had this to say of his famous study of the hypothalamus in gay men: “It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic….I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work.” 
Current research demonstrates that homosexuality is the result of a “combination of psychological, social, and biological factors working in concert.”  Homosexuality is not biologically determined. Neither is it chosen by homosexuals, strictly speaking (i.e., the desire is not chosen, though the behavior is). Instead, it seems that developmental factors during formative stages of a person’s life account for the idiosyncrasies of one’s sexual tastes. 
As to what is “natural” for homosexuals, the testimony of nature is clear: Homosexuals have male sex organs designed by nature to fit the sex organs of females, not other males. If homosexuals have sexual desires for men rather than for women, it’s clear that, however they developed those desires, it is contrary to their natural, physical provision.
Second, this interpretation introduces a concept—constitutional homosexuality—that is entirely foreign to the text, a detail Boswell himself admits: “It is in fact unlikely that many Jews of [Paul’s] day recognized such a distinction,” and that possibly even Paul himself was in the dark. If Paul was ignorant of the notion of “natural” homosexuality, then he could not very well be letting men who were “born gay” off the hook when he wrote that they “exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.” This argument self-destructs.
Further, if Paul spoke only to those violating their personal sexual orientation, then why didn’t he also warn of men who burned unnaturally towards women? Wouldn’t Paul warn against both types of violation—some men committing indecent acts with members of the same sex, and other men committing indecent acts with members of the opposite sex?
There’s a third problem. If all homosexual desire is natural, then to whom do Paul’s harsh words apply? If all those who engage in homosexual acts are merely following their natural desires, then who falls under Paul’s ban? Those heterosexual men who are not aroused by other men, but have sex with them anyway? Hardly. For men, if there is no arousal, there is no sex. But if there is arousal, according to Boswell et al, then the passion must be natural. Men who are heterosexual would never be inclined to have sex with other men; men who are homosexual do so “naturally” with Paul’s blessing. You’re blessed if you do, and blessed if you don’t. There’s no one left to rebuke. Paul must be condemning a group of people who do not exist.
Each of the points above is adequate to justify dismissing this silly reconstruction of Paul’s theology by modern scholars. But there’s one more problem. What in the text allows anyone to attempt to distinguish between constitutional homosexuals and others in the first place? Only one word: “natural.” A close look at what this word refers to, though, leads to the most devastating critique of all of “born gay” theology.
The Greek word kreesis, translated “function” in this text, is used only these two times in the New Testament, but is found frequently in other literature of the time. According to the standard Greek language reference A Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,  the word means “use,…relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse.”
Paul is not talking about natural desires here; he is talking about natural functions. He is not talking about what one wants sexually, but how one is built to operate sexually. The body is built to function in a specific way. Men were not built to function sexually with men, but with women.
This conclusion becomes unmistakable when one notes precisely what it is that homosexual men abandon in verse 27, according to Paul. The modern argument depends on the text teaching that men abandoned their own natural desire for woman and burned toward one another. Men whose natural desire was for other men, though, would then be exempt from Paul’s condemnation. Paul says nothing of the kind, though.
According to Paul, the problem wasn’t in man forsaking his own natural desire (his constitutional make-up), but rather the “natural function of the woman..” He abandoned the female, who was built by God to be man’s sexual compliment. He rejected the proper sexual companion God made for him—a woman: “The men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts....” (v. 27)
Natural desires go with natural functions. The passion that exchanges the natural function of sex between a man and a woman for the unnatural function of sex between a man and a man is what Paul calls a degrading passion.
Jesus clarified the natural, normal relationship: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh [sexual intercourse].’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)
Homosexual desire is unnatural because it causes a man to abandon the natural sexual compliment God has ordained for him: a woman. That was Paul’s view. If it was Paul’s view recorded in the inspired text, then it is God’s view. And if it is God’s view, it should be ours too, if we call ourselves Christians.
John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 109.
Citations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright 1977, The Lockman Foundation.
Thorough documentation on this issue in the professional literature can be found at www.narth.com under “Is Homosexuality Genetic?”
As quoted in Joseph Nicolosi & Linda Ames Nicolosi, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 54.
 Ibid., 60.
 For more discussion on this issue see Gregory Koukl, “Just Doing What Comes Naturally,” Solid Ground, May-June, 2002, www.str.org.
Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 1979), 885-6.
Reconstructing RomansIn Romans chapter one, Paul seems to use homosexuality as indicative of man’s deep-seated rebellion against God and God’s proper condemnation of man. New interpretations cast a different light on the passage, though.
Romans 1:18-27It’s clear that both views can’t be correct, but who is right? Only a close look at the text itself will give us the answer. The details of this passage show why these new interpretations are impossible. This is a lengthy passage that is worth quoting in its entirety: 
Born Gay?What about Boswell’s counter, though? What if one’s “natural” desire is for the same sex? If homosexuals are born that way, then homosexual desire is a normal expression of their physical constitution. Paul’s condemnation only applies to those who violate their sexual orientation. Indeed, demanding that homosexuals change their ways is precisely the kind of thing Paul prohibits. Each person, whether heterosexual or homosexual, must follow his own natural inclinations. That’s God’s design.
Natural Desire or Natural Function?Paul was not unclear about what he meant by “natural.” According to him, the problem is not that men abandon natural desires. The problem is they abandon natural functions: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another...” (1:26-27)
Greg started out thinking he was too smart to become a Christian and ended up giving his life for the defense of the Christian faith. A central theme of Greg's speaking and writing is that Christianity—if it's properly understood and properly communicated—makes the most sense of the world as we find it.
Greg has spoken on more than 70 college and university campuses both in the U.S. and abroad and has hosted his own call-in radio show for 27 years advocating “Christianity worth thinking about.” He’s debated atheist Michael Shermer on national radio and Deepak Chopra on national television on Lee Strobel's “Faith Under Fire.” He is an award-winning writer and best-selling author. Greg has been featured on Focus on the Family radio and has been interviewed for CBN and the BBC. He's been quoted in Christianity Today, the U.S. News & World Report, and the L.A. Times.
Greg received his Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Talbot School of Theology, graduating with high honors, and his Masters in Christian Apologetics with honors from Simon Greenleaf University. He is an adjunct professor in Christian apologetics at Biola University. Greg Koukl Books:
- 1 The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between
- 2 Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions
- 3 Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air
- 4 Jesus, the Only Way: 100 Verses
- 5 Faith Is Not Wishing: 13 Essays for Christian Thinkers
- 6 "Misquoting" Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman (Solid Ground)
- 7 Precious Unborn Human Persons
Jesus first, then creation. Otherwise, we preach another gospel
By Matt Dodrill 6/21/2018
Last week Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas. In his speech, he referred to President Donald Trump 76 times and the United States 65 times. How many times was Jesus mentioned? Once.
Responses varied among the denomination’s constituency, with a considerable number voicing criticism on the grounds of church-state separation. Adherence to this age-old Baptist distinctive is worth commending. But do Baptists (SBC and CBF alike) have the theological compass necessary to criticize this move on the grounds of revelation? There’s good reason to wonder.
In the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message, the article on Scripture omitted the 1963 version’s phrase stating that Jesus is the interpretive key (“the criterion,” to use the exact wording) for reading the Bible. No longer was Jesus regarded as the one in whom the Old and New testaments cohere, which is why Al Mohler was able to write a “biblical” defense of the death penalty without mentioning Jesus (a man executed by the state) even once. It’s why Baptists are so urgent to “preach the Bible” instead of preaching what Origen called the autobasileia, the kingdom-in-person that is Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, it’s why Mike Pence can stand in a Baptist pulpit and preach a Jesus-less gospel without receiving the kind of pushback that would prompt a reappraisal of our theological commitments.
What we believe about Jesus’ place in the interpretation of Scripture is a good indicator of what we believe about revelation. As the theologian T.F. Torrance was fond of saying, there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ. If God is fully revealed in the person of Jesus, we must calibrate our reading of God’s action in Scripture according to the character of God’s Son. Likewise, if Jesus embodies what it means to be fully human, we must calibrate our reading of creation according to that same character. We don’t know what’s “natural” apart from the flesh of Jesus. Or as the Baptist theologian James William McClendon put it, “A creation mandate apart from Christ is hardly Christian.” Jesus comes first, then creation.
This is precisely what the Swiss theologian Karl Barth tried to communicate to his colleague, Emil Brunner. In 1934, just a year after the Aryan Paragraph was issued by the German state, Brunner published a defense of “natural theology,” arguing that sinful humans maintain the capacity to discern God in creation apart from Jesus Christ. Barth’s famous rejoinder, simply titled Nein! (“No!”), claimed that we know the meaning of creation only by looking at the Incarnation. But if the creaturely flesh of Jesus won’t inform the character of creation, powerful despots will. Exhibit A: Nazi Germany, where Romans 13 was often cited in order to “naturalize” the state as a creaturely medium of God’s revelation. According to this logic, the reich was inscribed in nature. Such an impoverished theological imagination funded one of the most brutal systems of law and order imaginable. Beginning with “nature” has consequences.
So again: Jesus first, then creation. If we get this backward and posit creation as a prerequisite of grace, Jesus gets supplanted as the criterion for reading Scripture and creation, replaced by a self-justifying vision of “nature.” This always runs the risk of making empire the interpretive key for reading the Bible. Exhibit B: Jeff Sessions’ reading of Romans 13 to justify the morally derelict act of separating children from their parents at the border. Exhibit C: Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ assertion that following the law is “very biblical.” For them, law and order is part of nature. Indeed, it’s a perverted form of natural theology.
But Christian fundamentalists and members of Trump’s administration are not the only guilty ones. What about the rest of us? What about “moderate” and “progressive” Baptists? How did we respond when Colin Kaepernick took a knee? Was our instinct to protect the sanctity of a piece of cloth rather than the sanctity of black lives? Do we get upset when Trump uses the word “sh*thole” to describe poor countries, yet don’t bat an eye when nicer presidents bomb them? Do we keep saying things like, “We’re better than this” or “This is not America” when in fact separating children from their families was written into the DNA of America from its inception? Doesn’t our reticence to critically examine America’s very composition betray an assumption that this country is part of nature? We might think we’re “woke,” but these subtle iterations of natural theology keep us asleep. Only the incursion of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ can wake us up.
Jesus first, then creation. If we get this backward, we’ll end up preaching another gospel. And as Jeff Sessions’ favorite theologian once said to his congregation in Galatia: “If anyone preaches another gospel, let them be accursed!”
What You Didn’t Know About Angels
By Justin Dillehay 11/12/2018
I’ll never forget when I realized I didn’t believe in angels.
It was 2006, and I was reading C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy (Paperback)) for the first time. In the book, Edwin Ransom is taken to Malacandra (Mars), where he encounters intelligent beings called eldila, the chief of whom is the Oyarsa.
Because the story dealt with rocket travel through outer space to an actual planet, I had a ready category for these beings: aliens. And since aliens had always been implausible to me anyway, I had no trouble suspending my disbelief. Then Lewis dropped a clear biblical allusion, and my eyes were opened.
Ransom meets the Oyarsa, who explains to him that the Silent Planet Thulcandra is actually Earth, and that it became silent when its Oyarsa became “bent.” There are rumors, however, that “Maleldil” (Jesus) has pulled off an amazing rescue:
We think that Maleldil would not give it up utterly to the Bent One, and there are stories among us that He has taken strange counsel and dared terrible things, wrestling with the Bent One in Thulcandra. But of this we know less than you; it is a thing we desire to look into.
With this clear reference to 1 Peter 1:12, it finally dawned on me that these were not aliens. That passage speaks of the gospel events as “things the angels desire to look into” (KJV).
All along, I had been reading about angels and chalking it up to science fiction. I simply didn’t have room in my cosmology for intelligent, invisible, spiritual beings other than God. Not really. Angels existed in the Bible, not in the “air” and certainly not on other planets in our solar system. I had effectively cut angels out of the “real” cosmos.
Enter Michael HeiserEver since that shocking realization, I’ve paid closer attention to what the Bible says about angels, as well as to what older Christian writers have said about them. I’ve even thought about writing a book.
But thanks to Michael Heiser, now I don’t have to.
Heiser is scholar-in-residence for Faithlife Corporation, the company that gave us Logos Bible software. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the role of angels as “the divine council” (Ps. 82:1), and has since carved out a niche for himself as an expert in the supernatural and paranormal.
His latest book, Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host, is a tour de force tackling everything from the angel of the LORD in Genesis to the angels of the seven churches in Revelation. Written at an intermediate level, Angels offers a thorough account of angels in the Old and New Testaments, as well as in Second Temple Jewish literature. He concludes with a chapter of miscellaneous myths and questions about angels.
Biblical angels are more like Poseidon than Precious Moments.My only gripe about the book is Heiser’s tendency to cast “Christian tradition” as the bogeyman, with ancient Near Eastern studies as the savior (xiii, xix, 42). Derek Rishmawy refers to this as Heiser’s “frustrating case of biblical studies prejudice.” Perhaps by “tradition” Heiser means the cheesy stuff he heard as a kid. But if he means Athanasius, Aquinas, and Luther, then, as Rishmawy points out, it’s hard to get more supernatural than these guys. Justin Dillehay (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, Tennessee, where he resides with his wife, Tilly, and his daughters Norah and Agnes. They blog at While We Wait.
The Continual Burnt Offering (Matthew 1:20-21)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
May 25Matthew 1:20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ESV
What could be more wonderful than that God came down to earth as a baby! Could anything tell out more perfectly His deep yearning over mankind and His earnest desire to have men love and trust Him? Almost everybody, even the most depraved, loves a baby.
No one need fear a baby, and the Babe of Bethlehem was the perfect revelation of the heart of God, who would have all men know that He became incarnate, not to condemn, but to save.
By becoming a little child Himself, our Lord has changed the thoughts of untold millions as to the value and preciousness of the little ones. Christianity makes more of the children than any pagan religious system ever did. It rebukes the horrible crime of infanticide, which was accepted as a matter of course even among the cultured Greeks and the highly civilized Romans.
I believe the Holy Jesus was the Son of God on earth;
That Mary was His mother and a virgin at His birth;
That the Holy Ghost begat Him as the Angel Gabriel said.
God in the Gospel of His Son, confirms the record made.
I believe the blessed Saviour came down from Heaven for me,
Endured the cross, despised the shame, from sin to set me free;
He died, was buried, rose again, and did to Heaven ascend.
I believe the good old Gospel from beginning to the end.
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
12/1/2009 Pardoned and Glorified
If you’ve read Victor Hugo’s classic work Les Miserables, or if you’ve seen the stage production or film, you’ll recall the scene wherein the bitter criminal Jean Valjean has been released from prison and finds safe harbor at a bishop’s home. Instead of returning the bishop’s kindness, Valjean steals his silver, strikes him, and flees in the night. After Valjean is caught by the arresting officer, who represents the law, he brings Valjean before the bruised bishop to press charges. The bishop, representing God, affirms not only that he knows Valjean but alleges he gave Valjean the silver and asks Valjean why he didn’t take the candlesticks as well. Though Valjean is clearly guilty, the authorities release him upon hearing the bishop’s trusted declaration. The bishop then utters the unforgettable words: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” Valjean was a new man whose life had been purchased at the cost of another.
Though Hugo’s classic is not without its theological and sociopolitical problems, this scene beautifully depicts a guilty man who was declared just and thereupon set free to a life of mercy for all the miserable ones whose paths he crossed. Valjean’s soul was redeemed and given to God for a future life of selfless service. The bishop’s gracious act of redemption in the past helped pave the way for Valjean’s future life of good works. Whereas Hugo’s heroic figure is overwhelmingly deficient, Scripture takes us to an entirely different level as God reveals that all who trust Christ are already redeemed while we await the resurrection yet to come. Though we would kill Christ in God’s sovereign plan, He came to us as God incarnate, dwelling among us to live for us and die for us that we might live in Him and die to self unto life abundant and eternal. If we trust the One who was bruised for us, then we have already died in Him, and we are already redeemed for eternity, which is not yet a reality to us in real space and time but is nonetheless a reality to God. For those He has declared just He has also glorified (Rom. 8:28–30). As He justified us, it is as if God has already glorified us that we might glorify and enjoy Him forever coram Deo. He sees the end from the beginning, and in His immutable decree all future events are comprehended and certain.
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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
"The shot heard around the world " was a line in the famous poem "The Concord Hymn," recounting the Revolutionary War battle between the Minutemen and the British troops by a bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. It was written by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was born this day, May 25, 1803. Being friends with such notable writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, Emerson composed some of the best poems in American literature. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: "America is another name for opportunity. Our whole history appears like a last effort of divine Providence in behalf of the human race."
In Our Lord's Blood
Jesus was teaching about the purpose of his death. According to Paul and Matthew, Jesus’ words about the cup referred not only to his ‘blood’ but to the ‘new covenant’ associated with his blood, and Matthew adds further that his blood was to be shed ‘for the forgiveness of sins’. Here is the truly fantastic assertion that through the shedding of Jesus’ blood in death God was taking the initiative to establish a new pact or ‘covenant’ with his people, one of the greatest promises of which would be the forgiveness of sinners. What did he mean?
Many centuries previously God had entered into a covenant with Abraham, promising to bless him with a good land and an abundant posterity. God renewed this covenant at Mount Sinai, after rescuing Israel (Abraham’s descendants) from Egypt. He pledged himself to be their God and to make them his people. Moreover, this covenant was ratified with the blood of sacrifice: ‘Moses...took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”’ Exod. 24:8. See also the covenant references in Isa. 42:6; 49:8; Zech. 9:11 and Heb. 9: 18–20 Hundreds of years passed, in which the people forsook God, broke his covenant and provoked his judgment, until one day in the seventh century bc the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying:
‘The time is coming,’ declares the Lord,
‘when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,’
declares the Lord.
‘This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,’
declares the Lord.
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.’
More than six more centuries passed, years of patient waiting and growing expectancy, until one evening in an upper room in Jerusalem a Galilean peasant, carpenter by trade and preacher by vocation, dared to say in effect:
‘this new covenant, prophesied in Jeremiah, is about to be established; the forgiveness of sins promised as one of its distinctive blessings is about to become available; and the sacrifice to seal this covenant and procure this forgiveness will be the shedding of my blood in death.’
Is it possible to exaggerate the staggering nature of this claim? Here is Jesus’ view of his death. It is the divinely appointed sacrifice by which the new covenant with its promise of forgiveness will be ratified. He is going to die in order to bring his people into a new covenant relationship with God.
The Cross of Christ
Here then are the lessons of the upper room about the death of Christ. First, it was central to his own thinking about himself and his mission, and he desired it to be central to ours. Secondly, it took place in order to establish the new covenant and procure its promised forgiveness. Thirdly, it needs to be appropriated individually if its benefits (the covenant and the forgiveness) are to be enjoyed. The Lord’s Supper which Jesus instituted was not meant to be a slightly sentimental ‘forget-me-not’, but rather a service rich in spiritual significance.
What makes the events of the upper room and the significance of the Lord’s Supper yet more impressive is that they belong to the context of the Passover. That Jesus thought of his death in terms of an Old Testament sacrifice we have already seen. But which sacrifice did he have in mind? Not only, it seems, the Mount Sinai sacrifice of Exodus 24, by which the covenant was decisively renewed, but also the Passover sacrifice of Exodus 12, which became an annual commemoration of God’s liberation of Israel and covenant with them.
According to the Synoptic evangelists, the last supper was the Passover meal which followed the sacrificing of the Passover lambs. This is clear because the disciples asked Jesus where they should make preparations to ‘eat the Passover’, and Jesus himself referred to the meal as ‘this Passover’. Mark 14:12–16; Luke 22:15 According to John, however, the Passover meal would not be eaten until the Friday evening, which meant that Jesus was dying on the cross at the very time that the Passover lambs were being killed. John 18:28. Cf. John 19:36 and Exod. 12:46 In his important book Eucharistic Words of Jesus, Joachim Jeremias elaborated the three main attempts which have been made to harmonize these two chronologies. The best seems to be to declare both correct, each having been followed by a different group. Either the Pharisees and Sadducees were using alternative calendars, which differed from each other by a day, or there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem for the festival (perhaps as many as 100,000) that the Galileans killed their lambs on the Thursday and ate them that evening, while the Judeans observed the celebration one day later.
However the two chronologies are to be reconciled, the Passover context further enforces the three lessons that we have already considered. The central importance which Jesus attached to his death is underlined by the fact that he was actually giving instructions for the annual celebration of the Passover to be replaced by his own supper. For he spoke words of explanation over the bread and wine (‘This is my body...this is my blood...’), just as the head of an Aramaic Jewish household did over the Passover food (‘This is the bread of affliction which our fathers had to eat as they came out of Egypt’. Cf. Exod. 12:26–27; 13:8; Deut. 16:3 Thus ‘Jesus modelled his sayings upon the ritual of interpreting the Passover’.
This further clarifies Jesus’ understanding of the purpose of his death. He ‘presupposes’, wrote Jeremias, ‘a slaying that has separated flesh and blood. In other words, Jesus spoke of himself as a sacrifice’. Indeed, he was ‘most probably speaking of himself as the paschal lamb’, so that the meaning of his last parable was: ‘I go to death as the true Passover sacrifice’. The implications of this are far-reaching. For in the original Passover in Egypt each paschal lamb died instead of the family’s first-born son, and the first-born was spared only if a lamb was slain in his place. Not only had the lamb to be slain, but also its blood had to be sprinkled on the front door and its flesh eaten in a fellowship meal. Thus the Passover ritual taught the third lesson too, that it was necessary for the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial death to be personally appropriated.
The Cross of Christ
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Life is God's novel.
Let him write it.
--- Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
You are not obliged
to put on Evening clothes to meet God.
--- Austin O'Malley
Thoughts Of A Recluse (1898)
Thoreau’s existential stance closely follows from this position:
I love to live … I believe something, and there is nothing else but that. I know that I am – I know that another is who knows more than I who takes interest in me, whose creature and yet whose kindred, in one sense, am I. I know that the enterprise is worthy – I know that things work well. I have heard no bad news.
As for positions — as for combinations and details — what are they? In clear weather when we look into the heavens, what do we see, but the sky and the sun?
When you travel to the celestial city, carry no letter of introduction.
When you knock ask to see God – none of his servants.
In what concerns you much do not think that you have companions – know that you are alone in the world.
--- Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau and the Moral Agency of Knowing
The way to cover our sin is to uncover it by confession. The way for God to spare us is not to spare ourselves.
--- Richard Sibbes
The complete works of Richard Sibbes ... (Volume 6)
... from here, there and everywhere
Thomas A Kempis
Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion
The Seventeenth Chapter / The Burning Love And Strong Desire To Receive Christ
WITH greatest devotion and ardent love, with all affection and fervor of heart I wish to receive You, O Lord, as many saints and devout persons, most pleasing to You in their holiness of life and most fervent in devotion, desired You in Holy Communion.
O my God, everlasting love, my final good, my happiness unending, I long to receive You with as strong a desire and as worthy a reverence as any of the saints ever had or could have felt, and though I am not worthy to have all these sentiments of devotion, still I offer You the full affection of my heart as if I alone had all those most pleasing and ardent desires.
Yet, whatever a God-fearing mind can conceive and desire, I offer in its entirety to You with the greatest reverence and inward affection. I wish to keep nothing for self but to offer to You, willingly and most freely, myself and all that is mine.
O Lord God, my Creator and my Redeemer, I long to receive You this day with such reverence, praise, and honor, with such gratitude, worthiness and love, with such faith, hope, and purity as that with which Your most holy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, longed for and received You when she humbly and devoutly answered the angel who announced to her the mystery of the Incarnation: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38)
Likewise as Your blessed precursor, the most excellent of saints, John the Baptist, gladdened by Your presence, exulted in the Holy Ghost while yet enclosed in the womb of his mother, and afterward seeing Jesus walking among men, humbled himself and with devout love declared: “The friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice,” (John 3:29) even so I long to be inflamed with great and holy desires and to give myself to You with all my heart.
Therefore I offer and present to You the gladness of all devout hearts, their ardent affection, their mental raptures, their supernatural illuminations and heavenly visions together with all the virtues and praises which have been or shall be celebrated by all creatures in heaven and on earth, for myself and all commended to my prayers, that You may be worthily praised and glorified forever.
Accept, O Lord my God, my promises and desires of giving You infinite praise and boundless benediction, which in the vastness of Your ineffable greatness are justly due You. This I render and desire to render every day and every moment of time, and in my loving prayers I invite and entreat all celestial spirits and all the faithful to join me in giving You praise and thanks.
Let all people, races, and tongues praise You and with the greatest joy and most ardent devotion magnify Your sweet and holy name. And let all who reverently and devoutly celebrate this most great Sacrament and receive it in the fullness of faith, find kindness and mercy in You and humbly pray for me, a sinner. And when they have received the longed-for devotion and blissful union, and, well consoled and wonderfully refreshed, have retired from Your holy, Your celestial table, may they deign to remember my poor soul.
The Imitation Of Christ
Thanks to Meir Yona
When Hyrcanus Who Was Alexander's Heir, Receded From His Claim To The Crown Aristobulus Is Made King; And Afterward The Same Hyrcanus By The Means Of Antipater, Is Brought Back
By Abetas. At Last Pompey Is Made The Arbitrator Of The Dispute Between The Brothers.
1. Now Hyrcanus was heir to the kingdom, and to him did his mother commit it before she died; but Aristobulus was superior to him in power and magnanimity; and when there was a battle between them, to decide the dispute about the kingdom, near Jericho, the greatest part deserted Hyrcanus, and went over to Aristobulus; but Hyrcanus, with those of his party who staid with him, fled to Antonia, and got into his power the hostages that might be for his preservation [which were Aristobulus's wife, with her children]; but they came to an agreement before things should come to extremities, that Aristobulus should be king, and Hyrcanus should resign that up, but retain all the rest of his dignities, as being the king's brother. Hereupon they were reconciled to each other in the temple, and embraced one another in a very kind manner, while the people stood round about them; they also changed their houses, while Aristobulus went to the royal palace, and Hyrcanus retired to the house of Aristobulus.
2. Now those other people which were at variance with Aristobulus were afraid upon his unexpected obtaining the government; and especially this concerned Antipater 6 whom Aristobulus hated of old. He was by birth an Idumean, and one of the principal of that nation, on account of his ancestors and riches, and other authority to him belonging: he also persuaded Hyrcanus to fly to Aretas, the king of Arabia, and to lay claim to the kingdom; as also he persuaded Aretas to receive Hyrcanus, and to bring him back to his kingdom: he also cast great reproaches upon Aristobulus, as to his morals, and gave great commendations to Hyrcanus, and exhorted Aretas to receive him, and told him how becoming a filing it would be for him, who ruled so great a kingdom, to afford his assistance to such as are injured; alleging that Hyrcanus was treated unjustly, by being deprived of that dominion which belonged to him by the prerogative of his birth. And when he had predisposed them both to do what he would have them, he took Hyrcanus by night, and ran away from the city, and, continuing his flight with great swiftness, he escaped to the place called Petra, which is the royal seat of the king of Arabia, where he put Hyrcanus into Aretas's hand; and by discoursing much with him, and gaining upon him with many presents, he prevailed with him to give him an army that might restore him to his kingdom. This army consisted of fifty thousand footmen and horsemen, against which Aristobulus was not able to make resistance, but was deserted in his first onset, and was driven to Jerusalem; he also had been taken at first by force, if Scaurus, the Roman general, had not come and seasonably interposed himself, and raised the siege. This Scaurus was sent into Syria from Armenia by Pompey the Great, when he fought against Tigranes; so Scaurus came to Damascus, which had been lately taken by Metellus and Lollius, and caused them to leave the place; and, upon his hearing how the affairs of Judea stood, he made haste thither as to a certain booty.
3. As soon, therefore, as he was come into the country, there came ambassadors from both the brothers, each of them desiring his assistance; but Aristobulus's three hundred talents had more weight with him than the justice of the cause; which sum, when Scaurus had received, he sent a herald to Hyrcanus and the Arabians, and threatened them with the resentment of the Romans and of Pompey, unless they would raise the siege. So Aretas was terrified, and retired out of Judea to Philadelphia, as did Scaurus return to Damascus again; nor was Aristobulus satisfied with escaping [out of his brother's hands,] but gathered all his forces together, and pursued his enemies, and fought them at a place called Papyron, and slew about six thousand of them, and, together with them Antipater's brother Phalion.
4. When Hyrcanus and Antipater were thus deprived of their hopes from the Arabians, they transferred the same to their adversaries; and because Pompey had passed through Syria, and was come to Damascus, they fled to him for assistance; and, without any bribes, they made the same equitable pleas that they had used to Aretas, and besought him to hate the violent behavior of Aristobulus, and to bestow the kingdom on him to whom it justly belonged, both on account of his good character and on account of his superiority in age. However, neither was Aristobulus wanting to himself in this case, as relying on the bribes that Scaurus had received: he was also there himself, and adorned himself after a manner the most agreeable to royalty that he was able. But he soon thought it beneath him to come in such a servile manner, and could not endure to serve his own ends in a way so much more abject than he was used to; so he departed from Diospolis.
5. At this his behavior Pompey had great indignation; Hyrcanus also and his friends made great intercessions to Pompey; so he took not only his Roman forces, but many of his Syrian auxiliaries, and marched against Aristobulus. But when he had passed by Pella and Scythopolis, and was come to Corea, where you enter into the country of Judea, when you go up to it through the Mediterranean parts, he heard that Aristobulus was fled to Alexandrium, which is a strong hold fortified with the utmost magnificence, and situated upon a high mountain; and he sent to him, and commanded him to come down. Now his inclination was to try his fortune in a battle, since he was called in such an imperious manner, rather than to comply with that call. However, he saw the multitude were in great fear, and his friends exhorted him to consider what the power of the Romans was, and how it was irresistible; so he complied with their advice, and came down to Pompey; and when he had made a long apology for himself, and for the justness of his cause in taking the government, he returned to the fortress. And when his brother invited him again [to plead his cause], he came down and spake about the justice of it, and then went away without any hinderance from Pompey; so he was between hope and fear. And when he came down, it was to prevail with Pompey to allow him the government entirely; and when he went up to the citadel, it was that he might not appear to debase himself too low. However, Pompey commanded him to give up his fortified places, and forced him to write to every one of their governors to yield them up; they having had this charge given them, to obey no letters but what were of his own hand-writing. Accordingly he did what he was ordered to do; but had still an indignation at what was done, and retired to Jerusalem, and prepared to fight with Pompey.
6. But Pompey did not give him time to make any preparations [for a siege], but followed him at his heels; he was also obliged to make haste in his attempt, by the death of Mithridates, of which he was informed about Jericho. Now here is the most fruitful country of Judea, which bears a vast number of palm trees 7 besides the balsam tree, whose sprouts they cut with sharp stones, and at the incisions they gather the juice, which drops down like tears. So Pompey pitched his camp in that place one night, and then hasted away the next Morning to Jerusalem; but Aristobulus was so affrighted at his approach, that he came and met him by way of supplication. He also promised him money, and that he would deliver up both himself and the city into his disposal, and thereby mitigated the anger of Pompey. Yet did not he perform any of the conditions he had agreed to; for Aristobulus's party would not so much as admit Gabinius into the city, who was sent to receive the money that he had promised.
by D.H. Stern
21 He who fathers a fool does so to his sorrow,
and the father of a boor has no joy.
22 A happy heart is good medicine,
but low spirits sap one’s strength.
23 From under a cloak a bad man takes a bribe
to pervert the course of justice.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The test of self-interest
If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
--- Genesis 13:9.
As soon as you begin to live the life of faith in God, fascinating and luxurious prospects will open up before you, and these things are yours by right; but if you are living the life of faith you will exercise your right to waive your rights, and let God choose for you. God sometimes allows you to get into a place of testing where your own welfare would be the right and proper thing to consider if you were not living a life of faith; but if you are, you will joyfully waive your right and leave God to choose for you. This is the discipline by means of which the natural is transformed into the spiritual by obedience to the voice of God.
Whenever right is made the guidance in the life, it will blunt the spiritual insight. The great enemy of the life of faith in God is not sin, but the good which is not good enough. The good is always the enemy of the best. It would seem the wisest thing in the world for Abraham to choose, it was his right, and the people around would consider him a fool for not choosing. Many of us do not go on spiritually because we prefer to choose what is right instead of relying on God to choose for us. We have to learn to walk according to the standard which has its eye on God. “Walk before Me.”
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
I am, as you know, Walter Llywarch,
Born in Wales of approved parents,
Well goitred, round in the bum,
Sure prey of the slow virus
Bred in quarries of grey rain.
Born in autumn at the right time
For hearing stories from the cracked lips
Of old folk dreaming of summer,
I piled them on to the bare hearth
Of my own fancy to make a blaze
To warm myself, but achieved only
The smoke’s acid that brings the smart
Of false tears into the eyes.
Months of fog, months of drizzle;
Thought wrapped in the grey cocoon
Of race, of place, awaiting the sun’s
Coming, but when the sun came,
Touching the hills with a hot hand,
Wings were spread only to fly
Round and round in a cramped cage
Or beat in vain at the sky’s window.
School in the week, on Sunday chapel:
Tales of a land fairer than this
Were not so tall, for others had proved it
Without the grave’s passport, they sent
The fruit home for ourselves to taste.
Walter Llywarch—the words were a name
On a lost letter that never came
For one who waited in the long queue
Of life that wound through a Welsh valley.
I took instead, as others had done
Before, a wife from the back pews
In chapel, rather to share the rain
Of winter Evenings, than to intrude
On her pale body; and yet we lay
For warmth together and laughed to hear
Each new child’s cry of despair.
Selected Poems, 1946-68
Menaḥot 83b, 85a
While walking down the street, we see someone who looks very familiar. It's not a friend or an acquaintance, we realize, but a famous celebrity, perhaps an athlete or a politician or a movie star. We find ourselves drawn to him, following his every motion, unable to walk away. He seems larger than life, somehow very special and unique. We long to establish a connection with him in some way. We would love to talk to him, but we cannot imagine what we would say. We might even be hesitant to just say hello, fearing that we would be disturbing this great person, afraid that we will come off looking silly or acting like a pest. Many of us, if we have the presence of mind, and a pen and a piece of paper handy, might ask for an autograph. If we are lucky enough to get it, we would cherish that bit of barely legible scrawl as one of our most prized possessions.
Why is this so? Perhaps it is because we live in a huge, complex world, and so often we feel small and insignificant. In addition, so much of life is mundane and ordinary. It is quite natural for us to dream of a different reality where we are important and each moment is exciting. Popular culture exploits our boredom and unhappiness, transferring our fantasies to certain individuals who we assume must live charmed lives. In our desire for wealth, power, and excitement, we buy into the myths of the "rich and famous." Little do we realize that the actual lives of these people are, for the most part, not too different from our own. But it is one thing to dream, from time to time, about living a life of glamour. It is quite another thing to let these occasional dreams become obsessions and for us to live vicariously through the lives of others.
Rami bar Ḥama was responding to what he feared had become an obsession in one of his students. He reminds us that we can shake hands with a great person, but all that sticks is their scent. In a moment, even that is gone. Nothing of a lasting value comes from "hanging around" or worshiping celebrities. Rami would teach us that greatness is achieved by doing great things. Merely being in the company of the great is no substitute. We are challenged not to feed off someone else's accomplishments but to strive to be great ourselves.
You're bringing straw to Afarayim.
Text / Mishnah (8:1): All of the [meal] offerings of the community or of the individual are brought from the land [of Israel] or from outside the land, from the new or from the old, with the exception of the Omer and the Two Loaves, which must be brought from the new and from the land. All the offerings must be from the choicest. What constitutes "the choicest?" Mikhmas and Zanoaḥ are first for fine flour. Second, behind them, is Afarayim in the valley. All lands were kosher [for this], but they used to bring it from here.
Text / Gemara: "All the offerings must be from the choicest." Yoḥna and Mamra said to Moses: "You're bringing straw to Afarayim!" He said to them: "It is just as people say: 'To the place of vegetables—bring vegetables.' "
Context / Beginning on the second day of Pesaḥ, a sheaf [Omer] of newly harvested grain was offered each day for seven weeks: "When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest." (Leviticus 23:10)
Context / The two loaves were brought on the festival of Shavuot: "Then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering; each shall be made of two-tenths of a measure of choice flour." (Leviticus 23:16–17)
The Mishnah begins a discussion of what kind of flour was appropriate for the Minḥah meal-offerings. These offerings were made of flour and oil and cooked in various ways. They were brought in addition to the animal sacrifices or, on occasion, by themselves. With two exceptions, the flour could be either from new or old produce. The exceptions were the Omer and the Two Loaves.
The Mishnah then defines "choicest"; only this quality was acceptable for the meal-offerings. We are told that the towns of Mikhmas and Zanoaḥ had the reputation for producing the best flour in Israel; the next best flour was to be found in Afarayim.
The Gemara adds a piece of folklore associated with the town of Afarayim. This town apparently was well known for its abundant supply of straw. When Moses first came to Egypt to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go, he brought with him an arsenal of signs and wonders that were supposed to convince the Egyptians of God's power. For example, Moses would change his staff into a serpent; he could make his hand turn white with leprosy; and he could turn the waters of the Nile blood-red. Two of the Egyptian magicians, Yoḥna and Mamra (also referred to in other sources as Jannes and Jambres) came to meet him and ridiculed him. "Egypt is famous for its magicians who can perform many wonders. Your coming here with your tricks is like bringing straw to Afarayim!" Moses answers them with a folk saying: "If you want to sell vegetables, go to the place where people look to buy them—in the vegetable market!" In other words: I can play your game—doing magic—and beat you at it!
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
This seems like a good time to reflect on Jesus observing the Passover. In Seminary I was taught the more something is mentioned in Scripture the more important it is. Our Lord's observance of the Passover is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. More people than ever are emphasizing that Jesus was a Jew. It is important not to forget that. Jesus observed Jewish practices. The New Testament does not include everything in the Passover, but it does include much. Last year I wrote, "You might consider reading Mat 26:1-5, 17-30, Mark 14:1-2, 12-26, Luke 22:1-2, 7-20 and John 13:1-30 all in one sitting." That is one of the reasons why I changed to this Bible Reading Schedule.
This night was the fulfillment of Jewish children's, "What is special about this night." The text tells us that Jesus made preparations in advance. Those who wanted him dead were not ignorant of the Scriptures. Did they understand the connection between Jesus and the Passover and what this might symbolize to the people? Is that one of the reasons they did not want him killed on the Passover? Jesus often said, "The Scriptures must be fulfilled."
God makes sure the Word is not spoken in vain. Why do you think this is? Is it for our benefit? God continually speaks to our hearts in ways our minds cannot grasp. Our western way of thinking linearly has its drawbacks. As Dr. Del Tackett asked, "What do you do with stuff outside of the box?"
Lily and I have been married for almost thirty years. At least a couple of times every year she asks me why I love her. Sometimes I write her poems, sometimes I try, but fail to adequately explain it. These mental gymnastics just aren't successful.
So I try to just to show her, to look for every day little things I can do to demonstrate my love. Is it any different with God? Job just could not get his mind around God's ways. God finally asked Job just who Job thought he was to even try.
We cannot understand the ways of God, but we can put ourselves in a position to be aware of God's presence ... by pondering God's goodness, beauty, by being still, reading our Bibles and being more deliberate, more conscious, more intentional about our environment, what we think, say and do and especially the people around us.
I do not believe any Christian discipline, any works righteousness program can earn salvation, but, when I met Lily I knew where she worked and the only way to meet her was for me to go there. We must become more aware of the why's of our choices. God is talking to us, but we have to listen and Passover says much.
Next in this Passover, with regards to Jewish observance, is the matter of the sanctification of the Passover. If you read Luke 22:14-18 you will see that Jesus says a blessing over the Passover and then they drink the first cup. (Kiddush)
According to Jewish practice, next comes the washing of the hands. (Urchatz) Go to John 13:1-11. What is most interesting, but not surprising when we think of the nature of Jesus, is that He reverses the roles. No servant or the woman of the house comes in to wash their hands. Instead Jesus takes a towel and water and washes their feet.
In Mat 26:20-25 and Mark 14:17-21 the text talks about the betrayal of Jesus. This is the ceremony of Carpas, or the dipping. Most likely He dipped parsley into a bowl of salt water.
In John 13:21-30 we see what is called Coreich or the making of a sandwich. Everyone would take two pieces of matzah and make a sandwich of bitter herbs (horseradish) and charoseth. According to the Passover Seder Jesus would then have said, "Blessed are you, O Lord our God! King of the universe, who has sanctified us with your grace, and commanded us to eat bitter herbs." Then they would eat the sandwich, dipping it into the bowl of salt water first.
In Mat 26:26, Mark 14:22 and Luke 22:19 is the Yachatz. This is very important. I remember being at a Jewish Passover with a Jewish friend and at this part of the Seder he was visibly touched when I talked about Jesus and how Jesus said, "This is my body." The middle loaf was broken. This is called the afikomen. At the Passover I went to, after supper, the master of the house, took the broken part of the middle matzah, which he had hidden under a pillow for the afikomen, and gave each of us a piece of it.
The afikomen represents Jesus. What am I doing with Jesus?
Vol. 19: Word Biblical Commentary
Form/Structure/Setting - Psalm 35 is commonly described as an individual lament or a prayer; both descriptions are appropriate in general terms, though neither do justice to the particular language of the psalm and its military overtones. Attempts to relate the psalm to the situation of an accused man facing trial are also unsatisfactory, ... ; some of the language does indeed have legal overtones (cf. Asensio, Est Bib 31  5–16), but it requires interpretation in a context larger than that of the law courts. Eaton is almost certainly correct in interpreting the psalm as a royal psalm to be interpreted in an international context (Kingship and the Psalms, 41–42).
The psalm may be divided into three sections. (1) In the first section, the psalmist (identified as the king) prays for God's assistance in battle (vv 1–3), declares the eventual downfall of the enemy (vv 4–8), and anticipates the praise that will emerge from victory (vv 9–10). (2) There follows a lamentlike passage (vv 11–16), describing the king's enemies, which moves to a prayer for rescue (v 17), followed by further anticipation of praise after deliverance (v 18). (3) The last major section begins with a prayer directed against enemies (vv 19–26); the assurance that the prayer would be answered is expressed both in the anticipated worship of the people as a whole (v 27) and of the psalmist individually (v 28).
The external situation which must be envisaged is one that is both military and legal; almost certainly, the king faces the threat of war from foreign enemies, who in turn are using as an excuse for war certain purported violations of a treaty agreement. It is the background of an international treaty, between the king (representing Israel) and a foreign power, which provides the appropriate framework within which both the military and the legal language may be interpreted. The details giving rise to the international treaty context are elaborated in the Comment (below).
Though the evidence is not firm, it is reasonable to suppose that the psalm would have been utilized within the temple, perhaps in a liturgical setting, either as a consequence of the grave military threat, or else prior to the king's departure for battle to meet his adversary. If the latter were the case, then there are clearly general parallels between Ps 35 and Ps 20. The congregational setting of the ritual is indicated by the reference to the "great congregation" (v 18), to the "quiet ones" (v 20;), and by the substance of v 27, which may be interpreted as a congregational response of praise (though it is anticipated, rather than actual, in the ritual).
Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 19: Psalms 1-50
Rick Adams comment
In Mat 26:27-29, Mark 14:22-25, and Luke 22:20 they take the third cup. We know it was the third cup, or the third filling of the cup, because the author of Luke said the cup after supper. This is the cup of redemption and represents the redemption that came because of the shedding of the blood of the lambs in Egypt. For those who call upon the name of Jesus, it is the symbol of our redemption which comes as a result of the willing sacrifice of Jesus.
Mat 26:30 and Mark 14:26 now mention the Hallel. They sang the Psalms from 115-118. I find Psalm 118 especially appropriate.
A Song of Victory
1 O give thanks to the LORD,
for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
5 Out of my distress
I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me
and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side
I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side
to help me;
I shall look in triumph
on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge
in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge
in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
in the name of the LORD
I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me,
surrounded me on every side;
in the name of the LORD
I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees;
they blazed like a fire of thorns;
in the name of the LORD
I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard,
so that I was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
15 There are glad songs of victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly;
16 the right hand of the LORD is exalted;
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly.”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day
that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you,
give us success!
26 Blessed is the one
who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God,
and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God, I will extol you.
29 O give thanks to the LORD,
for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Then they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Richard S. Adams | Lover of Christ, husband of Lily, father of four, grandfather of eleven, Masters in Divinity and Certificate in Spiritual Direction. On staff at George Fox 1/2009 to 7/2018.
Judaism in the Land of Israel
Jewish comfort and familiarity with the Hellenistic world in no way entailed abandonment or compromise of their distinctive identity. Terms like “assimilation” and “accommodation” deliver misleading impressions that are best avoided, suggesting that the Jews needed to transform themselves in order to fit into an alien environment. On the contrary, they unabashedly called attention to their own characteristic features.
The issue of endogamy, for instance, recurs in Second Temple literature. The book of Tobit, among other things, exhorts those dwelling in the Diaspora to adhere to the teachings of their fathers, to hold their coreligionists to the highest ideals, and to reinforce the solidarity of the clan. The work enjoins Jews in the lands of the Gentiles to maintain their special identity through strict endogamy, a theme that runs throughout the tale, thus assuring survival of the tribe. The author of Tobit may indeed take the point too far, deliberately so, with a touch of irony. He has almost every character in the narrative, even husbands and wives, greet one another as brother and sister, with numbing repetition. This is endogamy with a vengeance, perhaps a parody of the practice—but also testimony to the practice. The author himself is evidently not partial to clannishness. He has Tobit’s deathbed speech offer a broader vision in which Jerusalem will eventually encompass Jew and Gentile alike, attracting all the nations of the world to its light.
The matter of endogamy surfaces prominently also in the Jewish novella, Joseph and Aseneth, a grandiose elaboration on the brief scriptural notice of Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of an Egyptian priest. The romantic story underscores in no uncertain terms Joseph’s unbending resistance to marriage outside the clan, relenting only when Aseneth abandons all her heresies, smashes her idols, and seeks forgiveness through abject prayers to the god of Joseph. The author here too, by exaggerating Joseph’s priggishness and Aseneth’s debasement, may suggest the disadvantages of taking endogamy to extremes. But the importance of the practice as highlighting Jewish particularity is plain.
Jews seem quite uninhibited in displaying in the Diaspora traits peculiar to their ancestral traditions. One need only think of those practices remarked upon most often by Greek and Roman authors: observance of the Sabbath, dietary laws, and circumcision. The institution of the Sabbath frequently drew comment, generally amused comment. Pagan writers found it quite incomprehensible that Jews refused to fight on the Sabbath—thus causing Jerusalem to fall on three different occasions. And even if the prohibition did not cause disaster, it seemed a colossal waste of time: why did Jews waste one-seventh of their lives in idleness? Comparable mirth directed itself against the abstention from eating pork. Even Emperor Augustus, in reference to the notorious intrigues and murders that took place in the household of Herod, famously observed that “it’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” That quip implies that the Jewish dietary restriction was well known among the Romans. Satirists indeed had a field day with it. Petronius, author of the Satyricon, concluded that, if Jews don’t touch pork, they must worship a pig-god. And Juvenal characterized Judea as a place where a long-standing indulgence permits pigs to reach a ripe old age. As for circumcision, it provided much grist for the jokesters’ mill. Philo reports that circumcision called forth considerable ridicule from non-Jews. Among the instances of this was Juvenal’s claim that Jews are so exclusive that they would not even give directions in the street to anyone who was not circumcised. None of this amounts, as has often been thought, to “anti-Semitism.” It represents mockery rather than animosity. But it demonstrates that Diaspora Jews had no qualms (and no fears) about practicing their conventional customs, thereby denoting their differences from Gentiles.
In fact, what struck pagan writers most was not Jewish assimilation but Jewish separateness. That emerges in Juvenal’s quip noted above. It recurs also in a comment by his contemporary, the historian Tacitus, who claimed that Jews took up circumcision precisely in order to express their distinctiveness from all other people. The impression of Jewish separatism appears, in fact, as early as the first extant Greek writer to take note of the Jews, Hecataeus of Abdera, a historian of the late fourth century B.C.E. Hecataeus, in an account generally favorable to Jews, indicates that they tended to keep to themselves and shun the company of others.
The uncommon character of their customs both provided bonds among Diaspora Jews everywhere and announced their differences from other peoples. The surviving evidence underscores this again and again. The collection of an annual tax to be sent to the Temple from Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean exemplifies it. So does the regular celebration of festivals that mark major milestones in the history of the nation. The Jews of Egypt kept the Passover at least as early as the fifth century, as the Aramaic papyri from Elephantine attest. Scattered testimony reveals observance of Shavuot, Sukkot, and Yom Kippur in Jewish communities outside Palestine, conspicuous links to ancient tradition. Later feasts have strong Diaspora connections. The Purim festival began in the Persian period, according to the book of Esther, and was celebrated annually by the Jews of Persia. A comparable anniversary occurred in Alexandria to celebrate a Jewish triumph, according to the narrative of 3 Maccabees. And the Jews of Jerusalem invited their compatriots in Egypt to commemorate the purification of the Temple in their own Diaspora location.
As noted earlier, the structures in which Jews of the Diaspora met often carried the designation of proseuchai or prayer houses. That term applies regularly to Jewish meeting places in Egypt but also in the Bosporan region, in Delos, in Halicarnassus, and doubtless in other communities where the evidence fails us. The implication seems clear enough: such gatherings included prayers, acts of worship of some sort that gave voice to the particular Jewish relationship with the divinity. Such places of assemblage, whether called proseuchē or synagōgē, served also as a site for collective Torah study and for other instructional activity that reinforced the continued commitment to Jewish tradition.
Philo, the learned Alexandrian Jew, places particular emphasis upon this aspect of synagogue activity, noting that the laws were read out to weekly meetings on the Sabbath. Priests or elders, according to Philo, took responsibility for reading and commenting on the sacred laws, even keeping the congregation at it for hours, and providing them with great impetus toward piety. In Philo’s portrayal, perhaps somewhat shaped by his own philosophic proclivities, congregants sit in their synagogues, read their sacred books, and discuss at length the particulars of their ancestral philosophy. He reckons the synagogue as a Jewish replica of a philosophical academy. The presentation may be slightly skewed but surely not far off the mark.
The book of Acts portrays Paul repeatedly entering Jewish synagogues in various cities of the Diaspora, in Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus, and arguing with Jews about the meaning of the Scriptures. Close attention to holy writ obviously remained central to Jewish activity outside Palestine—and to Jewish self-perception. The vitality of the Torah was undiminished. The stimulus for translation into Greek suffices to establish that. And, as Philo reports, the completion of the project receives annual celebration on the island of Pharos, where the translators allegedly worked, a strong signal of Jewish pride in the heritage that marked them out from others.
The tenacious adherence to signature principles occurred perhaps most obviously in the Jewish insistence upon rejecting idolatry. The affirmation did not consist, strictly speaking, in pitting monotheism against polytheism. Jewish intellectuals recognized that Greek philosophic thinking often expressed itself in terms of a supreme deity or a single divine principle. What Jews resisted unequivocally was the worship of deities in the form of images. Such practice they reckoned as profaning the spiritual essence of God. The stance, of course, derives from the biblical commandment against graven images, and the struggle against idolaters fills the pages of the Torah and the Deuteronomistic history. The principle retained its power in the Second Temple. As we have seen, even the Letter of Aristeas, a prime document for accord between the Jewish and Hellenic worlds, draws the line firmly at idolatry, denouncing in harshest terms those who fashion their own gods in wood or stone and thus fundamentally misconceive the nature of divinity. Aseneth’s acceptance of Joseph’s god could come only when she pulverized every idol in the household. And the assault on idolatry gains voice also in the Sibylline Oracles, composed by Jews who emphasized the failings and offenses of Gentiles. The incorporeal character of God represented an unshakable principle. Jewish aniconism was conspicuous and widely acknowledged by non-Jews. Some found it peculiar and puzzling, even akin to atheism. Others admired it. The Roman historian Tacitus held up the Jewish practice as a worthy contrast with animal worship indulged in by Egyptians and with emperor worship, which Tacitus deplored. Indeed the most learned of Romans, the great scholar Varro, in the late first century B.C.E., praised the imageless conception of the deity, likening it to ancient Roman custom as genuine piety before the Romans began to set up images and adulterate their creed. But whether questioning or admiring, pagan references to Jewish aniconism make clear that perseverance in this principle that set Jews apart from their neighbors received widespread notice. They erected no façade of assimilation.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
Why do you stand here looking into the sky? --- Acts 1:11.
The angels’ address is a rebuke to idle speculation in regions beyond the reach of human knowledge. ( Sermons Preached in St. Paul's Cathedral ) It is a warning against substituting that which is visionary for that which is real in religion.
[But] aren’t we told that our citizenship is in heaven? Aren’t we commanded to store up treasure in heaven? In what sense then can we be required to avert our gaze from heaven and to fix our eyes on the earth?
The circumstances of the apostles will supply us with a first answer. What was a fault in them will be a fault in us also. They were eager to know the exact time—the day and the hour—when their King would come and claim his kingdom. He had told them again and again that this knowledge was hidden from them. It was hidden even from the angels of heaven. And still, the last words that they address to their risen Lord ignore the warning; still the last answer that they receive from his lips is a rebuke for desiring to fathom the unfathomable. “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set.”
The subject has exercised a strong fascination over Christians in all ages. Again and again people have predicted the time of the Second Advent. Again and again their predictions have been falsified.
And the wrong done by this lawless speculation is not trifling. It impairs that attitude of patient waiting that is enjoined on the church. It substitutes a spasmodic, feverish watchfulness for the calm and continuous expectation that suits the children of God. It is chargeable with still more fatal consequences than these. It has bred disappointment, and from disappointment has sprung skepticism and from skepticism, mockery and unbelief. It has given occasion to the enemies of Christ to blaspheme. And the guilt lies in no small degree with the speculation of believers. Strange that it should have been so; strange that people should not perceive how each such prediction falsified is a confirmation of the Master’s saying, “No one knows about that day or hour.”
Spend no more time on speculations; they only absorb energy and paralyze action. Stand no more gazing up into heaven, but return from the mount of ascension to your everyday life. There, continue in prayer and supplication; there await in confidence that outpouring of the Spirit; there live and bear witness to Christ.
--- J. B. Lightfoot
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
The Eccentric Preacher May 25
Charles Spurgeon once wrote a little book entitled Eccentric Preachers. He described 11 peculiar ministers, his concluding example being Billy Bray of Cornwall, England. Billy, an alcoholic miner, found the Lord at age 29. “In an instant the Lord made me so happy I cannot express what I felt,” said Billy. “I shouted for joy. Everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. … ” Billy joined the Methodists and set out immediately to win others. His bursting, driving energy made some people call him a madman.
“But they meant ‘glad man’!” said Billy.
He took Cornwall by storm. On meeting strangers, Billy would inquire about their souls; and he would shout “Glory!” whenever hearing of anyone being saved. Sometimes he would pick people up and spin them around the room. “I can’t help praising God,” he said. “As I go along the street I lift one foot and it seems to say ‘Glory!’ and I lift the other, and it seems to say, ‘Amen!’ And they keep on like that all the time I’m walking.”
From age 29 to his death at 73, he danced and leaped and shouted his way through each day. He preached and built chapels and took orphans into his home. He fasted Saturday afternoon till Sunday night each week. When pressed to eat, he would say, “On Sunday I get my breakfast and dinner from the King’s table, two good meals too.”
When his wife died, Billy jumped around the room in excitement, shouting, “Bless the Lord! My dear Joey is gone up with the bright ones! Glory! Glory! Glory!” And when his doctor told him he, too, was dying, he shouted, “Glory! Glory to God! I shall soon be in heaven.” Then lowering his voice, he added, “When I get up there, shall I give them your compliments doctor, and tell them you will be coming, too?”
His dying word as he fell asleep on May 25, 1868 was “Glory!”
“It does not seem so very horrible after all,” commented Spurgeon, “that a man should be eccentric.”
Shout praises to the LORD!
With all that I am, I will shout his praises.
I will sing
And praise the LORD God for as long as I live.
--- Psalm 146:1,2.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - May 25
“Forsake me not, O Lord.” --- Psalm 38:21.
Frequently we pray that God would not forsake us in the hour of trial and temptation, but we too much forget that we have need to use this prayer at all times. There is no moment of our life, however holy, in which we can do without his constant upholding. Whether in light or in darkness, in communion or in temptation, we alike need the prayer, “Forsake me not, O Lord.” “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” A little child, while learning to walk, always needs the nurse’s aid. The ship left by the pilot drifts at once from her course. We cannot do without continued aid from above; let it then be your prayer to-day, “Forsake me not. Father, forsake not thy child, lest he fall by the hand of the enemy. Shepherd, forsake not thy lamb, lest he wander from the safety of the fold. Great Husbandman, forsake not thy plant, lest it wither and die. ‘Forsake me not, O Lord,’ now; and forsake me not at any moment of my life. Forsake me not in my joys, lest they absorb my heart. Forsake me not in my sorrows, lest I murmur against thee. Forsake me not in the day of my repentance, lest I lose the hope of pardon, and fall into despair; and forsake me not in the day of my strongest faith, lest faith degenerate into presumption. Forsake me not, for without thee I am weak, but with thee I am strong. Forsake me not, for my path is dangerous, and full of snares, and I cannot do without thy guidance. The hen forsakes not her brood, do thou then evermore cover me with thy feathers, and permit me under thy wings to find my refuge. ‘Be not far from me, O Lord, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’ ‘Leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation!’ ”
“O ever in our cleansed breast,
Bid thine Eternal Spirit rest;
And make our secret soul to be
A temple pure and worthy thee.”
Evening - May 25
“And they rose up the same hour, and returned Jerusalem … and they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them.” --- Luke 24:33,35.
When the two disciples had reached Emmaus, and were refreshing themselves at the Evening meal, the mysterious stranger who had so enchanted them upon the road, took bread and brake it, made himself known to them, and then vanished out of their sight. They had constrained him to abide with them, because the day was far spent; but now, although it was much later, their love was a lamp to their feet, yea, wings also; they forgot the darkness, their weariness was all gone, and forthwith they journeyed back the threescore furlongs to tell the gladsome news of a risen Lord, who had appeared to them by the way. They reached the Christians in Jerusalem, and were received by a burst of joyful news before they could tell their own tale. These early Christians were all on fire to speak of Christ’s resurrection, and to proclaim what they knew of the Lord; they made common property of their experiences. This Evening let their example impress us deeply. We too must bear our witness concerning Jesus. John’s account of the sepulchre needed to be supplemented by Peter; and Mary could speak of something further still; combined, we have a full testimony from which nothing can be spared. We have each of us peculiar gifts and special manifestations; but the one object God has in view is the perfecting of the whole body of Christ. We must, therefore, bring our spiritual possessions and lay them at the apostle’s feet, and make distribution unto all of what God has given to us. Keep back no part of the precious truth, but speak what you know, and testify what you have seen. Let not the toil or darkness, or possible unbelief of your friends, weigh one moment in the scale. Up, and be marching to the place of duty, and there tell what great things God has shown to your soul.
Morning and Evening
PRAISE YE THE TRIUNE GOD!
Elizabeth R. Charles, 1828–1896
I will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word. (Psalm 138:2)
Saints and angels join in praising Thee, the Father, Spirit, Son ---
Evermore their voices raising to the Eternal Three in One.
--- J. Montgomery
The Sunday after Pentecost Sunday is the time when the Christian church has especially recognized the doctrine of the Trinity, the existence of the triune Godhead. This doctrine has been called one of the mystic truths of Scripture because of the difficulty in fathoming and explaining it. Yet it cannot be denied that the Bible does teach that while God is one, He exists in three coequal-equal Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture ascribes each member with such attributes as eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and creator of the universe. Although the word trinity is not used, there are several passages in which all three Persons are expressly mentioned together: The great commission (Matthew 28:19), and the apostolic blessing (2 Corinthians 13:13).
The best of human analogies for explaining the trinity, such as ice, water, and steam being three distinct forms of the same element, always falls short. In the final analysis, we must accept this truth by faith and offer our worship and praise to each member of the Godhead.
This hymn text by Elizabeth Charles, one of England’s gifted women of her day—author, poet, translator of German texts, musician and painter—is one of our finest Godhead hymns. The hymn does not present any complicated arguments. It simply directs a child-like praise to each member of the trinity for His loving care and concern for us. This we can understand.
Praise ye the Father for His loving kindness; tenderly cares He for His erring children; praise Him, ye angels, praise Him in the heavens, praise ye Jehovah!
Praise ye the Savior—great is His compassion; graciously cares He for His chosen people; young men and maidens, ye old men and children, praise ye the Savior!
Praise ye the Spirit, Comforter of Israel, sent of the Father and the Son to bless us; praise ye the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Praise ye the Triune God!
For Today: Psalm 139:7; Romans 8:9; 16:26; 1 John 5:7, 8; Jude 20; Revelation 1:4, 5.
Though it is difficult to do, try explaining the meaning of the Trinity to some close Christian friend or member of your family. Offer this expression of praise throughout the day ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XXXV. — BUT, since we have been persuaded to the contrary of this, by that pestilent saying of the Sophists, ‘the Scriptures are obscure and ambiguous;’ we are compelled, first of all, to prove that first grand principle of ours, by which all other things are to be proved: which, among the Sophists, is considered absurd and impossible to be done.
First then, Moses saith, (Deut. xvii. 8.) that, ‘if there arise a matter too hard in judgment, men are to go to the place which God shall choose for His name, and there to consult the priests, who are to judge of it according to the law of the Lord.’
He saith, “according to the law of the Lord” — but how will they judge thus, if the law of the Lord be not externally most clear, so as to satisfy them concerning it? Otherwise, it would have been sufficient, if he had said, according to their own spirit. Nay, it is so in every government of the people, the causes of all are adjusted according to laws. But how could they be adjusted, if the laws were not most certain, and absolutely, very lights to the people? But if the laws were ambiguous and uncertain, there would not only be no causes settled, but no certain consistency of manners. Since, therefore, laws are enacted that manners may be regulated according to a certain form, and questions in causes settled, it is necessary that that, which is to be the rule and standard for men in their dealings with each other, as the law is, should of all things be the most certain and most clear. And if that light and certainty in laws, in profane administrations where temporal things only are concerned, are necessary, and have been, by the goodness of God, freely granted to the whole world; how shall He not have given to Christians, that is to His own Elect, laws and rules of much greater light and certainty, according to which they might adjust and settle both themselves and all their causes? And that more especially, since He wills that all temporal things should, by His, be despised. And “if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven,” how much more shall He clothe us? (Matt. vi. 30) — But, let us proceed, and drown that pestilent saying of the Sophists, in Scriptures.
Psalm xix. 8, saith, “The commandment of the Lord is clear (or pure), enlightening the eyes.” And surely, that which enlightens the eyes, cannot be obscure or ambiguous!
Again, Psalm cxix. 130, “The door of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” Here, it is ascribed unto the words of God, that they are a door, and something open, which is quite plain to all and enlightens even the simple.
Isaiah viii. 20, sends all questions “to the law and to the testimony;” and threatens that if we do not this, the light of the east shall be denied us.
In Malachi, ii. 7, commands, ‘that they should seek the law from the mouth of the priest, as being the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.’ But a most excellent messenger indeed of the Lord of Hosts he must be, who should bring forth those things, which were both so ambiguous to himself and so obscure to the people, that neither he should know what he himself said, nor they what they heard!
And what, throughout the Old Testament, in the 119th Psalm especially, is more frequently said in praise of the Scripture, than that, it is itself a most certain and most clear light? For Ps. cxix. 105, celebrates its clearness thus: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths.” He does not say only — thy Spirit is a lamp unto my feet; though he ascribes unto Him also His office, saying, “Thy good Spirit shall lead me into the land of uprightness.” (Ps. cxliii. 10.) Thus the Scripture is called a “way” and a “path:” that is from its most perfect certainty.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
11 “Surely Goodness and Love Will Follow Me . . .”
With all this in view it is then proper to ask myself, “Is this outflow of goodness and mercy for me to stop and stagnate in my life? Is there no way in which it can pass on through me to benefit others?”
Yes, there is a way.
And this aspect is one that eludes many of us.
There is a positive, practical aspect in which my life in turn should be one whereby goodness and mercy follow in my footsteps for the well-being of others.
Just as God’s goodness and mercy flow to me all the days of my life, so goodness and mercy should follow me, should be left behind me as a legacy to others wherever I may go.
It is worth reiterating at this point that sheep can, under mismanagement, be the most destructive livestock. In short order they can ruin and ravage land almost beyond remedy. But in bold contrast they can, on the other hand, be the most beneficial of all livestock if properly managed.
Their manure is the best balanced of any produced by domestic stock. When scattered efficiently over the pastures it proves of enormous benefit to the soil. The sheep’s habit of seeking the highest rise of ground on which to rest insures that the fertility from the rich lowland is redeposited on the less productive higher ground. No other livestock will consume as wide a variety of herbage. Sheep eat all sorts of weeds and other undesirable plants that might otherwise invade a field. For example, they love the buds and tender tips of Canada thistle, which, if not controlled, can quickly become a most noxious weed. In a few years a flock of well-managed sheep will clean up and restore a piece of ravaged land as no other creature can do.
In ancient literature sheep were referred to as “those of the golden hooves”—simply because they were regarded and esteemed so highly for their beneficial effect on the land.
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