Nehemiah 8 - 9
Ezra Reads the LawNehemiah 8:1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
This Day Is Holy9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Feast of Booths Celebrated13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.
The People of Israel Confess Their SinNehemiah 9:1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. 4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
6 “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.
9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.
16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.
26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.
38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.
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Glory Versus the Cross
By Gene Edward Veith 3/1/2008
Mother Teresa was a living saint, according to the popular mind, compassionately caring for the sick and dying and projecting a love that brought cynical secularists to their knees. After her death, the Vatican put her on a fast track to sainthood. But then a book on her life published some of her personal writings that showed Mother Teresa was wracked with spiritual depression and a sense that God had abandoned her.
The atheist Christopher Hitchens, who had earlier written a book attacking Mother Teresa for her pro-life views, crowed at the news. See, he wrote in Newsweek, she didn’t believe in this Christianity stuff at all. But even many who admired her were flabbergasted that this saintly woman who talked so much about serving Christ had such trouble feeling his presence. Maybe she wasn’t a saint after all.
For me, though, the news of Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul made me think that maybe she really was a saint. Not in the Roman Catholic sense of a spiritual superhero. But in the biblical sense of a sinner whose hope is in Christ and not in herself. She did not follow her feelings, trust in her good works, or enjoy mystical experiences. Rather, she walked by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
Luther was like that. He was subject to titanic glooms, as the poet Francis Thompson called them, times of spiritual struggle, terror, and despair. But Luther said that these inner trials drove him to trust the Word of God, not his feelings, and to cling not to his experiences but to the objective cross of Jesus Christ.
In writing about these matters, Luther identified what would become our contemporary culture’s blind spot when it comes to spiritual matters. He distinguished between what he called a “theology of glory” and “the theology of the cross.”
A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him.
And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God.
But, Luther pointed out, when God chose to save us, He did not follow the way of glory. He did not come as a great hero-king, defeating his enemies and establishing a mighty kingdom on earth. Rather, He came as a baby laid in an animal trough, a man of sorrows with no place to lay His head. And He saved us by the weakness and shame of dying on a cross. Those who follow Him will have crosses of their own: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Not that we have to suffer for our own sins. But faith in the Gospel, putting our trust in what Christ accomplished for us on His cross, entails acknowledging our own weakness, the failure of our own works, the complete abnegation of our glory.
And as we find ourselves in the cross of Jesus, we can find Him in the far lesser crosses that we have to bear. When Christians suffer, according to Luther, Christ is with us in our suffering. Spiritual depression can drive us closer to Him, who knows better than anyone what it feels like to be wracked with physical pain, to be abandoned and rejected by those He loved, to be forsaken by His Father.
In Luther’s terms, Christ is “hidden” in our sufferings. If a child is hiding in the room, we do not see him, but he is nevertheless there. Similarly, in our sufferings, we do not perceive the hidden Christ, but He is nevertheless truly present, to be apprehended by faith.
To be sure, after the cross, Christ was glorified. God raised Him from the dead, and He ascended to God’s right hand. And Christ will come again “in glory” to judge the living and the dead. And we too are raised to new life. We too will be glorified in the eternal life to come, where we really will experience victory, have all of our problems washed away, and enjoy complete understanding.
But our access to that glory is through the cross. “To God alone be glory,” we say. Notice how the critical word in those Reformation slogans is “alone” (sola). God does have glory in Himself. But we do not.
Even in the secular spheres, contemporary Americans are mad after the theology of glory, expecting success on the job, perfect families, and either self-help remedies or government action to solve all our problems. But Americans today cannot handle suffering. We would rather die than suffer. We would rather be killed than suffer. Send for Dr. Kevorkian!
But the truth of Christianity is evident in that everyone does, in fact, have problems, struggles, and sufferings. And this can be their point of contact for Christ, who on the cross not only “was wounded for our transgressions” but also “has borne our griefs” and “carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4–5).
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Gene Edward Veith Books | Go to Books Page
The Marks of the Church
By Mark Dever 3/1/2008
Is a small group Bible study a church? Is the Roman Catholic Church a church? Many people are confused today about what a church is. How do you know if what calls itself a church is indeed a church? (Dt 33:10) 10 They shall teach Jacob your rules
Christians in the past thought about this. They developed the idea of “the marks of the church,” that is, the characteristics that distinguish truly Christian churches. The Protestant Reformers concluded that there are two of these: the right preaching of God’s Word and the right administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Let’s spend just a moment thinking about each one of these.
Christian preaching is declaring and explaining God’s Word. If you’re reading this as a Christian, it’s because sometime, somewhere, someone brought God’s Word to you. It may have been through a book or a conversation, it may have been through a Sunday school lesson. For many of us, however, it has been through a sermon (Deut. 33:10).
and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
and whole burnt offerings on your altar. ESV
(Ro 10:17) 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. ESV
Have you ever noticed how God’s Spirit will instruct or encourage or chastise you through His Word preached? Have you ever come into church one Sunday morning not feeling very spiritual, perhaps even feeling cold to God as the sermon started? But then, as the preacher read from God’s Word and began to explain and unfold it, you became extra-aware. Your spiritual attention was caught. As the preacher spoke of God’s character, or of a certain sin, or a certain opportunity for service, it was as if God Himself was addressing you. He was! God has ordained that His children would be fed by His Word being preached. In fact, this is the most basic function of a local church.
But preaching isn’t the only work of a Christian church. Jesus Christ clearly commanded His followers to act out images, involving symbols of His gracious provision for sinners. There are two such commanded actions for the local church: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The first is the initial sign of membership in God’s people; the second is the continuing sign of membership in God’s people.
Baptism is the initial sign of belonging to God’s people. One dispute about baptism is well-known — whether it should be administered to the children of Christians or not. Either way, all Bible-believing Protestants would understand that baptism is a sign of God’s gracious activity in the baptized individual’s life. And from the command of Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 28 to Paul’s assumption in Romans 6:3–4 that all the Christians in that church had been baptized, we see that baptism is to be taught and practiced by any truly Christian church.
(Ro 6:3–4) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ESV
It is important for us to pause here and note that we are not saying that the physical act of baptism is necessary for regeneration. I was having lunch with a friend today, and at one point I asked him how one becomes a Christian. He said that “you have to be baptized.” I had great sympathy with his answer, but wanted to make sure he didn’t misunderstand the Gospel. You should be baptized, and if you’re taught you should and you refuse, then something is seriously wrong. But we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, not by baptism
The Lord’s Supper is the continuing sign of belonging to God’s people. Questions about how it should be received — sitting in the pew, standing or kneeling at the front of the church — are not important. Most important is the meaning of the Lord’s Supper — as a remembrance (1 Cor. 11:24–25) and a proclamation (v. 26), and the Gospel integrity of those who take it. Paul wrote a letter of stern correction to the Christians in Corinth because they were allowing those who were in unrepentant sin to take the Lord’s Supper. Paul told them that this should not be.
(1 Co 11:24–25) 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” ESV
Taking the Lord’s Supper would never save such an unrepentant sinner. It is true that the Lord’s Supper is only for sinners. But within that group, it is only for repentant sinners. Like baptism, the Lord’s Supper, properly administered, portrays God’s faithfulness to us. But our participation in it also speaks publicly of us personally being known to be partakers of God’s grace in Christ.
One important implication of this is that a church is in one sense created by a group of people who will take that responsibility to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly and rightly. Therefore they must decide who may and may not receive the Supper. The list of those regular recipients is basically the membership of the church. And the refusal to allow those who do not evidence saving faith to participate in the Lord’s Supper is what is called “church discipline.” The church means to do all this in obedience to Christ. And it is marked out as a truly Christian church if it rightly preaches God’s Word and rightly administers baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is the church’s responsibility, therefore, to define visually for the world what a Christian is.
(Dt 33:10) 10 They shall teach Jacob your rules
Dr. Mark Dever is senior minister of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and is an author and speaker for 9Marks, a ministry concerned with biblical church reform.
Mark Dever Books:
- 1 9 Marks of a Healthy Church
- 2 Proclaiming A Cross-Centered Theology
- 3 The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made by Mark Dever (2006-04-10)
- 4 By Whose Authority? Elders in Baptist Life
- 5 The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept by Mark Dever (2005-11-16)
- 6 The Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
- 7 RICHARD SIBBES
- 8 90 Days in Ruth, Jeremiah and 1 Corinthians: Draw strength from God s word
- 9 God and Politics
- 10 Preach: Theology Meets Practice
- 11 Preach: Theology Meets Practice
- 12 In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement
- 13 What Does God Want of Us Anyway?: A Quick Overview of the Whole Bible (9Marks)
- 14 It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement (9Marks)
- 15 What Is a Healthy Church? (IX Marks) (9 Marks of a Healthy Church)
- 16 The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel
- 17 The Compelling Community: Where God's Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks)
- 18 The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (Foreword by C. J. Mahaney) (9marks)
- 19 Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus (9marks: Building Healthy Churches)
By Richard L. Ganz 3/1/2008
It was a beautiful, sunny morning. My wife and I were sitting on our porch, enjoying a rare, completely undisturbed moment together, when a white sedan drove up our laneway and stopped a few feet from us. The well-dressed driver got out, while the young woman remained in the car. I could see it in an instant. I looked at my wife Nancy, and whispered: “Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll take care of this.”
The man came up to me and said, “Good morning.” Before he could say another word, I took the offensive. “Yes, and the world is getting worse and worse, isn’t it?” “Uh, yes,” he replied, “but….” Before he could say anything, I leapt in like Jet Li in the movie Fearless.
“The issue,” I said, “is not how I will deal with the problems of the world. I know we are both convinced we have the answer. My question to you is this: where will your answer lead you?” He opened his mouth to answer, except that Jet Li was faster. I silenced him once again, changing the subject and asking, “Can you say that you are ‘born again’?” “No, but…,” he weakly stammered. I interrupted, “There are no but’s, my friend. The Bible is contrary to what your group teaches. ‘You MUST be born again’!”
I could feel the man shrivel against my now almost frenzied assault. I couldn’t stop. As I went in for the kill, I remembered the scene where Jet Li annihilates the opposition with a dizzying array of spin kicks.
“Jesus, my friend, is GOD!” I shouted into his face. I didn’t even need my Bible for this, as I boldly rattled off verse after verse. “‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the WORD was God.’ John 1:1. Notice it’s not ‘a god’ as your New World Translation suggests.” I looked into the car and told the young woman that she should tell her friend to use a real translation.
I wasn’t done yet, not by a long shot. I started pacing back and forth. My congregation of one and his car-sitting sidekick stared bewilderedly at me. As the man tried to interject, I went on: “He is ‘God OVER ALL’ Romans 9:5. If that doesn’t answer it for you, what about Colossians 2:9? ‘In him the whole fullness of DEITY dwells bodily.”’ I then repeated those words for emphasis, “FULLNESS OF DEITY!”
The man seemed extremely agitated by this point. But here came my spin kick. “One last thing,” I said, “and then you can say whatever you would like in response. In Revelation 1:17–18 it says: ‘I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ Who do you say that is?” “Don’t answer,” I replied to my own question, “We both know it’s Jesus. Dead and alive. First and Last. Interesting, isn’t it? Who does the Old Testament say was ‘the first and the last’?” By this time I noticed that he no longer even tried to interject. He just said, “Why don’t you tell me.”
Further emboldened by such a concession, I looked into the window of the automobile at the stern, almost disbelieving look on the young woman’s face and told her that next time she should request to go with someone who knew his Bible. Then I turned back to the man and said: “In Isaiah 44:6 it says, ‘Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’” I amazed even myself; and it had all taken less than ten minutes.
I then looked at the man and said, “I’m finished. What have you got to say?” He looked back at me and replied, “Well, I can tell you this. I promise I’ll never become a Jehovah’s Witness, but do you know where the Monaghan’s live?”
Somehow (I’m not sure how, but somehow), when I realized that he had just stopped to ask for directions, I managed to give him directions to our neighbor’s home. I somehow also mustered up the strength to wave as they drove off down our laneway.
The “good” side of this is two-fold. First, I did rattle off numerous Scripture verses, and I was partially able to comfort myself, knowing that “the word of God never returns to God without achieving the purpose God intended.”
Second, it made me think. I wondered: “Is this possibly how I come across when I preach?” I recognized how easy it is for me to deal with “lost” people in an arrogant, overbearing way that loses them further, while, at the same time, thinking how great I’ve been. I realized that if my Gospel as well as my demeanor isn’t filled with grace and love, I’m not some masterful preacher or well-spoken Christian, but simply “a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).
People need more and more of the gracious Jesus who invites them to Himself (“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Matt. 11:28). They need to see and hear the Jesus who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). People’s lives are beaten down enough. They don’t need more of it from the pulpit. They need Jesus, not Jet Li.
Dr. Richard L. Ganz is senior minister of Ottawa Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ottawa, Canada. He is author of Free Indeed: Escaping Bondage and Brokenness for Freedom in Christ.
By R.C. Sproul 4/1/2008
The Latin word credo means simply “I believe.” It represents the first word of the Apostles’ Creed. Throughout church history it has been necessary for the church to adopt and embrace creedal statements to clarify the Christian faith and to distinguish true content from error and false representations of the faith. Such creeds are distinguished from Scripture in that Scripture is norma normans (“the rule that rules”), while the creeds are norma normata (“a rule that is ruled”).
Historically, Christian creeds have included everything from brief affirmations to comprehensive statements. The earliest Christian creed is found in the New Testament, which declares, “Jesus is Lord.” The New Testament makes a somewhat cryptic statement about this affirmation, namely, that no one can make the statement except by the Holy Spirit. What are we to understand by this? On the one hand, the New Testament tells us that people can honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him. That is to say, people can recite creeds and make definitive affirmations of faith without truly believing those affirmations. So, then, why would the New Testament say that no one can make this confession save by the Holy Spirit? Perhaps it was because of the cost associated with making that creedal statement in the context of ancient Rome.
The loyalty oath required by Roman citizens to demonstrate their allegiance to the empire in general and to the emperor in particular was to say publicly, “Kaisar Kurios,” that is, “Caesar is lord.” In the first-century church, Christians bent over backward to be obedient to civil magistrates, including the oppressive measures of Caesar, and yet, when it came to making the public affirmation that Caesar is lord, Christians could not do so in good conscience. As a substitute for the phrase, “Caesar is lord,” the early Christians made their affirmation by saying, “Jesus is Lord.” To do that was to provoke the wrath of the Roman government, and in many cases, it cost the Christian his life. Therefore, people tended not to make that public affirmation unless they were moved by the Holy Spirit to do so. The simple creed, “Jesus is Lord,” or more full statements, such as the Apostles’ Creed give an outline of basic, essential teachings. The creeds summarize New Testament content.
The creeds also used that summary content to exclude the heretics of the fourth century. In the affirmation of the Nicene Creed, the church affirmed categorically its belief in the deity of Christ and in the doctrine of the Trinity. These affirmations were seen as essential truths of the Christian faith. They were essential because without inclusion of these truths, any claim to Christianity would be considered a false claim.
At the time of the Reformation, there was a proliferation of creeds as the Protestant community found it necessary, in the light and heat of the controversy of that time, to give definitive statements as to what they believed and how their faith differed from the Roman Catholic Church’s theology. Rome itself added her creedal statements at the Council of Trent in the middle of the sixteenth century as a response to the Protestant movement. But each Protestant group, such as the Lutherans, the Swiss Reformed, and Scottish Reformed, found it necessary to clarify the truths that they were affirming. This was made necessary, not only because of disagreements within Reformed parties, but also to clarify the Protestant position against frequent misrepresentations set forth by their Roman Catholic antagonists. The seventeenth-century confessional statement known as the The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as adopted by The Presbyterian Church in America With Proof Texts is one of the most precise and comprehensive creedal statements growing out of the Reformation. It is a model of precision and biblical orthodoxy. However, because of its length and comprehensive dimension, it is difficult to find two advocates of the Westminster Confession who agree on every single precise point. Because of that, churches that use the Westminster Confession or other such confessions, usually limit requirements of adherence by an acknowledgment of “the system of doctrine contained within.” These later Protestant creeds not only intended to affirm what they regarded as essentials to Christianity, but specifically to clarify the details of the particular religious communion that would use such comprehensive confessions of faith.
In our day, there has been a strong antipathy emerging against confessions of any stripe or any degree. On the one hand, the relativism that has become pervasive in modern culture eschews any confession of absolute truth. Not only that, we have also seen a strong negative reaction against the rational and propositional nature of truth. Creedal statements are an attempt to show a coherent and unified understanding of the whole scope of Scripture. In that sense, they are brief statements of what we historically have called “systematic theology.” The idea of systematic theology assumes that everything that God says is coherent and not contradictory. So, though these creeds are not created out of pure rational speculation, nevertheless, they are written in such a way as to be intelligible and understood by the mind. Without such confessions, theological anarchy reigns in the church and in the world.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
What the Needy Need
By Richard D. Phillips 4/1/2008
Since we live in a fallen world, our greatest strengths have a way of giving birth to our greatest weaknesses. This is why some churches that emphasize a strong Bible-preaching pulpit are less vigorous in ministries of mercy. One inner city Presbyterian church participated in a study regarding mercy ministries. The study commended the church for its vigorous efforts to minister to the needy and the lost. But the study report expressed this approval in telling language: it said that the church “is deeply committed to teaching and preaching biblical doctrine; however, it also has a heart for mercy ministry.”
This is how many people have learned to think: they are surprised that a church that is strong in the Word would also be strong in good deeds. When the pastor of this particular church received the report, he requested one significant revision. It should be changed to say that because they are deeply committed to biblical doctrine, therefore they have a heart for mercy ministry! And this is how it should be in all our churches!
The reality is that any church that fails to minister the merciful love of God is failing in its witness to the merciful heart of God. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Likewise, a church that is little interested in works of mercy is not pleasing to our Lord. The Christians that Jesus will commend on the Last Day are those to whom He will say, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35–40).
So how do churches lead their members to recognize the necessity of merciful deeds? What causes Christians to act spontaneously in the kind of mercy Jesus commends? I want to offer three ways in which our churches can cultivate a spirit of mercy within its members.
First, we motivate mercy ministry by teaching the full biblical doctrine of salvation. We rightly emphasize repentance from sin, forgiveness of sin, and the hope of glory in heaven. Yet it is not merely our souls that are saved by God’s grace. Our lifestyles are also redeemed. And God’s saving grace within any community — a family, church, city, or nation — will result in increased mercy and justice. The Old Testament vision of salvation is replete with this emphasis. God frequently complained against the lack of justice and mercy among His people, and He continually urged the Israelites “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). The New Testament does not let up on this emphasis, as can easily be seen in the parables of Jesus and in Paul’s pastoral epistles. So as we teach salvation, we must present the peace and love that God gives to His people, both of which are manifested in ministries of mercy and kindness to others.
Secondly, churches can accomplish much by modeling mercy within their own congregational life. Some of this involves targeted ministries to the surrounding communities. We should look around and see what types of needs are obvious. If there are homeless people, the church should have a homeless outreach. If there are elderly, there might be a visitation ministry. If there are internationals, the church might reach out with hospitality. But beyond this is the simple modeling of ordinary mercy. Do we notice the disabled in our midst and make provision for their participation? Do we care about the problems the elderly have in getting to church? Are we involved in ministry to the shut-ins? The church should not be a compartment in life where one participates in mercy ministry. Rather, the church should be a community in which the practice and habits of mercy are learned and trained.
Thirdly, we must always remember that the greatest mercy is that which brings the good news of Jesus Christ to the lost. Are we inspiring church members to personal evangelism? Many people think that the Reformed faith de-motivates Christians from sharing the Gospel. But when we realize the costly mercy by which God has saved us, the natural result is that we would look with mercy on the world. The Bible says that we love because God loved us, we forgive because God has forgiven us, and we give because of what God has given to us. If we understand the sovereign mercy that has saved our souls, we will be merciful to others by presenting a living and loving witness to the Gospel of Christ.
One of the strongest statements of God’s sovereignty in salvation occurs in Jonah 2:9 where the prophet prays, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” But that great doctrinal statement is accompanied in the previous verse by a lament for the state of the lost, who by their idolatry “forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). Like Jonah, who cared little for the Gentiles until he understood his own salvation, it is when we truly appreciate the sovereign mercy by which we have been saved that we will no longer struggle to feel mercy for the dying world.
From Amazon | Rick Phillips was raised in an Army family and grew up on posts around America. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he followed his father and grandfather by serving as a tank officer. While in graduate school in Philadelphia, his mother urged him to start attending church again, so Rick visited nearby Tenth Presbyterian Church. The message he heard that night changed his life, a sermon from the Old Testament book of Hosea about God's redeeming love for sinners through the cross of Jesus Christ. Surrendering his life to the love of Christ, Rick became active in Officer's Christian Fellowship during the years he was teaching leadership at West Point. He began leading a Bible study for students, then was asked to write a daily devotional, and then to preach at Christian meetings. Through these experiences, he and his wife concluded that God was calling Rick into a full-time pulpit ministry, so they left the Army and embarked on fulfilling God's call to the ordained ministry.
Rick tries to write the kind of books that have ministered so powerfully in his own life. Mainly, these are books of biblical exposition. His writing heroes are James M. Boice, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and similar writers of biblical teaching. Some of his books seek to provide clear biblical teaching to important matters of practical living, such as manhood and relationships. He is grateful to God for the privilege of ministering to so many people through his books, desiring above all that God's Word would be clearly, faithfully, and passionately set forth.
Richard D. Phillips Books:
- 1 The Masculine Mandate
- 2 Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating
- 3 Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living through the Rediscovery of Abba Father
- 4 John: 2 Volume Set (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 5 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 6 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 7 What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?
- 8 Hebrews (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 9 Hebrews (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 10 Turning Your World Upside Down: Kingdom Priorities in the Parables of Jesus
- 11 Revelation (Reformed Expository Commentary) (Reformed Expository Commentaries)
- 12 Zechariah (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 13 These Last Days: A Christian View of History
- 14 What Are Election and Predestination? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith)
- 15 What Is The Lord's Supper? (Basics of the Faith) (BASICS OF THE REFORMED FAITH)
- 16 Walking with God
- 17 By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification
- 18 The Death of The Saviour
- 19 The Heart of an Executive: Lessons on Leadership From the Life of King David
- 20 Jonah & Micah (Reformed Expository Commentary)
- 21 God, Adam, and You: Biblical Creation Defended and Applied (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology)
- 22 Saved by Grace: The Glory of Salvation in Ephesians 2
- 23 What Happens After Death? (Basics of the Faith)
- 24 Encounters With Jesus: When Ordinary People Met the Savior
- 25 What Is the Atonement? (Basics of the Faith)
- 26 Ephesians: A Mentor Expository Commentary
- 27 Chosen in Christ: The Glory of Grace in Ephesians 1
- 28 Mighty to Save: Discovering God's Grace in the Miracles of Jesus
- 29 Only One Way?: Reaffirming the Exclusive Truth Claims of Christianity
- 30 Faith Victorious: Finding Strength and Hope from Hebrews 11
- 31 The Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
- 32 Precious Blood: The Atoning Work of Christ
- 33 Jesus the Evangelist: Learning to Share the Gospel from the Book of John
- 34 Turning Back the Darkness: The Biblical Pattern of Reformation
- 35 What Are Election and Predestination? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith) by Richard D. Phillips (2006-11-13)
- 36 What Is The Lord's Supper? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith) by Richard D. Phillips (2005-02-09)
By Don Carson 1/1/2018
We are first introduced to Zelophehad and his daughters in Numbers 27:1-11. Normally inheritance descended through the sons. But Zelophehad had no sons, only five daughters named Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Zelophehad belonged to the generation that passed away in the desert. Why, the daughters asked Moses, should his family line be prohibited from inheriting just because his progeny were all female? Moses, we are told, “brought their case before the LORD” (Num. 27:5). The Lord not only ruled in favor of the daughters’ petition, but provided a statute that regularized this decision for similar cases throughout Israel (Num. 27:8-11).
But a new wrinkle on this ruling turns up in Numbers 36. The family heads of Manasseh, to which the Zelophehad family belongs, ask what will happen if the daughters marry Israelites outside their tribe. They bring their inheritance with them to the marriage, and it would get passed on to their sons, but their sons would belong to the tribe of their father — and so over the centuries there could be massive redistribution of tribal lands, and potentially major inequities among the tribes. On this point, too, the Lord himself rules (Num. 36:5). “No inheritance may pass from tribe to tribe, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits” (Num. 36:9). The way forward, then, was for the Zelophehad daughters to marry men from their own tribe — a ruling with which the Zelophehad daughters happily comply (Num. 36:10-12).
If this offends our sensibilities, we ought to consider why.
(1) Pragmatically, even we cannot marry anyone: we almost always marry within our own highly limited circles of friends and acquaintances. So in Israel: most people would want to marry within their tribes.
(2) More importantly, we have inherited Western biases in favor of individualism (“I’ll marry whomever I please”) and of falling in love (“We couldn’t help it; it just happened, and we fell in love”). Doubtless there are advantages to these social conventions, but that is what they are: mere social conventions. For the majority of the world’s people, marriages are either arranged by the parents or, more likely, at very least worked out with far more family approval operating than in the West. At what point does our love of freedom dissolve into individualistic self-centeredness, with little concern for the extended family and culture — or in this case for God’s gracious covenantal structure that provided equitable distribution of land?
We live in our own culture, of course, and under a new covenant. And we, too, have biblical restrictions imposed on whom we marry (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:39). More importantly, we must eschew the abominable idolatry of thinking that the universe must dance to our tune.
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.
16 But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
18 He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19 God will give ear and humble them,
he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
and do not fear God.
By Gleason Archer Jr.
The name Zekar-Yah means “Jehovah has remembered” (i.e., presumably, the Lord has remembered the prayers of his parents for a baby boy). The theme of his prophecy was: God is going to preserve His remnant from all the world powers which oppress them and threaten their extinction; these Gentile empires shall be destroyed, but Israel shall survive every ordeal to come, because they are the people of the Messiah. It is He who shall some day establish the kingdom and rule over all the earth after vanquishing all heathen opposition.
Outline of Zechariah
I. Messages during building of the temple, 1:1–8:23
A. First message: call for national repentance, 1:1–6
B. Second message: the eight visions, 1:7–6:15
1. Horseman among the myrtles, 1:7–17 (the sovereign God ready to intervene in the peaceful world scene in order to bless His city and people)
2. Four horns and four smiths, 1:18–21 (Israel’s oppressors to be successively crushed: Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome)
3. Measuring line, 2:1–13 (half desolate Jerusalem is someday to become large and populous)
4. Joshua, symbol of the priestly nation, 3:1–10 (Israel is to be forgiven and purged by the grace of God)
5. Candelabrum: Israel as the lamp of witness, 4:1–14 (Israel to be fed with the oil of the Spirit by the Priest-King, Christ)
6. Flying scroll of divine judgment, 5:1–4 (a curse upon all who reject the Law and Covenant)
7. Removal of the ephah of iniquity to Babylon, 5:5–11 (ungodliness removed from Judah and consigned to the degenerate world from whence it came and where it belongs)
8. Four chariots of divine judgment, 6:1–8 (death, conquest, famine and pestilence meted out to the surrounding heathen powers)
9. Sequel: the symbolic crown of Joshua as type of the Messianic Branch, 6:9–15
C. Third message, 7:1–8:23
1. The query about extra fasts, 7:1–3
2. The fourfold answer (godliness and obedience more important than fasts), 7:4–8:23
II. Messages after the building of the temple, 9:1–14:21
A. Burden of Hadrach (the anointed King rejected but triumphant), 9:1–11:17
1. The king announced: (the Palm Sunday entrance), 9:1–10
2. The king’s program set forth, 9:11–10:12
3. The king rejected (the good shepherd and the foolish shepherd), 11:1–17
B. The burden of Israel (the rejected King enthroned), 12:1–14:21
1. Final victories of Israel: her conflict, triumph, conversion, and sanctification, 12:1–13:6
a) Downfall of the heathen who attack Jerusalem, 12:1–4
b) Miraculous strength of Israel to vanquish all their foes, 12:5–9
c) Repentance of latter-day Israel for the crucifixion of Christ, 12:10–14
d) Spring of cleansing water for the repentant, 13:1
e) Permanent removal of idolatry from Israel and the silencing of all false prophets, 13:2–6
2. Final victories of the King, 13:7–14:21
a) His rejection, and the purging of Israel, 13:7–9
b) Assault upon Jerusalem, and deliverance by the Lord, 14:1–8
c) Establishment of the supremacy of Judah and her King over the earth, 14:9–15
d) Millennial subjection of the nations to Christ and the holy status of millennial Israel, 14:16–21
Authorship And Date of Zechariah
The first verse presents Zechariah as the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo, who was undoubtedly the same priest as the one mentioned in Neh. 12:4 as a contemporary of Zerubbabel. In Zech. 2:4 the prophet is spoken of as a youth (na˓ar). He would probably have been a young man at the time he cooperated with Haggai in the rebuilding campaign of 520 B.C. His last dated prophecy (chap. 7 ) was given two years later, in 518; yet chapters 9–14 show every appearance of having been composed some decades after that, possibly after 480 B.C. in view of the reference to Greece ( 9:13 ). As Unger points out (IGOT, p. 355), the successful resistance of the Greek nation to the invasion of Xerxes would naturally have brought them into a new prominence in the eyes of all the peoples of the Near East. We have no further information concerning Zechariah’s personal career, except the reference in Matt. 23:35, which seems to indicate that he was martyred by mob action in the temple grounds (since the Zechariah that Christ mentions is said to be the son of Berechiah rather than of Jehoiada, who however met his end in a like manner back in the days of King Joash, according to 2 Chron. 24:20–21 ).A Survey of Old Testament Introduction
The Continual Burnt Offering (Matthew 3:11-12)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
May 27Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ESV
Nothing could emphasize our Lord’s deity more than John’s declaration regarding Him and this twofold baptism. Imagine a creature baptizing in the Holy Spirit. Only One who is Himself divine could do this. And on Pentecost Peter unhesitatingly declares it was He who sent the Spirit (Acts 2:33). He it is who will consign the unrepentant to the fire of everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:41). This is not to be confused with the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, nor with the tongues “like as of fire” which appeared at Pentecost. “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” is placed in direct contrast with gathering the “wheat into the barn” (Matthew 3:12).
By the Spirit-baptism believers are now united in one body and empowered for service.
Acts 2:33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Matthew 3:12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” ESV
The Holy Ghost is here,
Where saints in prayer agree;
As Jesus’ parting gift—is near
Each pleading company.
Not far away is He,
To be by prayer brought nigh,
But here in present majesty
As in His courts on high.
He dwells within our soul,
An ever-welcome guest;
He reigns with absolute control,
As monarch in the breast.
Our bodies are His shrine,
And He th’ in-dwelling Lord;
All hail, Thou Comforter divine,
Be evermore adored!
--- Charles H. Spurgeon
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
2/1/2010 Justification for Everyone
For years we have wrestled with the question as to whether we should produce an issue of Tabletalk devoted to the new perspectives on Paul on the doctrine of justification, and for years we concluded that many of our readers would be generally unaware of what has been, until recently, an academic discussion among studied churchmen the world over. However, with the release of N.T. Wright’s popular-level book What Saint Paul Really Said, coupled with his international ministry among laity and winsome personality, his popularity and teaching have spread like wildfire from the seminaries to the pulpits to the pews of churches around the world.
The first popular-level response to N.T. Wright’s teaching came from the pen of Dr. John Piper. With pastoral care, academic integrity, and unrelenting graciousness, Piper gave us The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright, which in turn elicited a response from Wright. In correspondence with Piper’s pastoral assistant David Mathis, we agreed it would be appropriate to provide readers with a word of introduction from Dr. Piper to help explain our purpose and to help set the needed tone for this special issue of Tabletalk. I am truly thankful for his words: “Nicholas Thomas Wright is an English scholar and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England. He is a remarkable blend of weighty academic scholarship, ecclesiastical leadership, popular Christian advocacy, musical talent, and family commitment. As critical as the articles in this magazine are of Wright’s understanding of the gospel and justification, the seriousness and scope of the issue is a testimony to the stature of his scholarship and the extent of his influence. I am thankful for his strong commitment to the authority of Scripture; his defense of the virgin birth, deity, and resurrection of Christ; his biblical disapproval of homosexual conduct; and the consistent way he presses us to see the big picture of God’s universal purpose for all peoples through the covenant with Abraham — and more. My conviction concerning Wright is not that he is under the curse of Galatians 1, but that his portrayal of the gospel — and of justification in particular — is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. In my judgment, what he has written will lead to a kind of preaching that will not announce clearly what makes the lordship of Christ good news for guilty sinners, or show those who are overwhelmed with sin how they may stand righteous in the presence of God.”
In quoting N.T. Wright directly and providing concise responses from some of the world’s most trusted churchmen, it is our sincere prayer that this issue will serve to equip the church to know and defend that precious doctrine upon which each individual stands or falls before the face of God, by faith alone and for His glory alone.
click here for article source
Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
Twentieth-Century Fox made a motion picture entitled "A Man Called Peter," about the life of U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall, who was born this day, May 27, 1902. He emigrated from Scotland, was ordained a Presbyterian minister, and became a U.S. citizen in 1938. His son is the well-known author of The Light and the Glory. During a critical moment, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall opened a session of Congress with the prayer: "God of our Fathers, whose Almighty hand hath… preserved our Nation… May it be ever understood that… to the extent… America honors Thee, wilt Thou bless America."
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Most people wish to serve God -
but only in an advisory capacity.
--- Author Unknown
Finding God's Will: Seek Him, Know Him, Take the Next Step
I've been hiding from God,
and I'm appalled to find how easy it is.
--- Mignon McLaughlin
The second neurotic's notebook
A servant of God has but one Master. It ill becomes the servant to seek to be rich, and great, and honored in that world where his Lord was poor, and mean, and despised.
--- George Mueller
The Autobiography Of George Muller
Cold prayers are as arrows without heads, as swords without edges, as birds without wings. They pierce not, they cut not, they fly not up to heaven. Cold prayers always freeze before they reach heaven.
--- Thomas Brooks
The Complete Works Of Thomas Brooks, Volume 2... - Primary Source Edition
... from here, there and everywhere
This work began as a series of lectures given at a Senior Honors Seminar at Yeshiva University’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1992–1993. My goal was to teach these budding Jewish scholars what they already knew intuitively. I wanted them to be aware of the vaulting role of spirituality in Judaism and of the complex and mutually fructifying relationships between spirituality and Halakha (Jewish law), using the Shema as a detailed illustration of this phenomenon.
A further purpose of that seminar—and this book—was a commentary on the Shema as such. I hoped that some day my students would use this material to convey to many others the ability to recite the Shema in a manner that is spiritually engaging, personally meaningful, and intellectually challenging, and—for those standing outside the Jewish tradition—to acquaint them with some of the scope, profundity, grandeur, and relevance of this simple but eloquent statement of Jewish faith in the oneness of God.
I have added material that has accumulated since then, and as is to be expected, different emphases, foci, and style were inevitable. The spoken word and the written word require different treatment and presentation; furthermore, students are graded by the instructor, whereas the author is graded by his readers.…
Most of my students did well in that class. May I fare no worse in the eyes of my readers and, above all, in the eyes of the One whose unity we proclaim thrice daily in the Shema.
The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
Thanks to Meir Yona
Alexander, The Son Of Aristobulus, Who Ran Away From Pompey, Makes An Expedition Against Hyrcanus; But Being Overcome By Gabinius He Delivers Up The Fortresses To Him. After This Aristobulus Escapes From Rome And Gathers An Army Together; But Being Beaten By The Romans, He Is Brought Back To Rome; With Other Things Relating To Gabinius, Crassus And Cassius.
1. In the mean time, Scaurus made an expedition into Arabia, but was stopped by the difficulty of the places about Petra. However, he laid waste the country about Pella, though even there he was under great hardship; for his army was afflicted with famine. In order to supply which want, Hyrcanus afforded him some assistance, and sent him provisions by the means of Antipater; whom also Scaurus sent to Aretas, as one well acquainted with him, to induce him to pay him money to buy his peace. The king of Arabia complied with the proposal, and gave him three hundred talents; upon which Scaurus drew his army out of Arabia.
2. But as for Alexander, that son of Aristobulus who ran away from Pompey, in some time he got a considerable band of men together, and lay heavy upon Hyrcanus, and overran Judea, and was likely to overturn him quickly; and indeed he had come to Jerusalem, and had ventured to rebuild its wall that was thrown down by Pompey, had not Gabinius, who was sent as successor to Scaurus into Syria, showed his bravery, as in many other points, so in making an expedition against Alexander; who, as he was afraid that he would attack him, so he got together a large army, composed of ten thousand armed footmen, and fifteen hundred horsemen. He also built walls about proper places; Alexandrium, and Hyrcanium, and Machaerus, that lay upon the mountains of Arabia.
3. However, Gabinius sent before him Marcus Antonius, and followed himself with his whole army; but for the select body of soldiers that were about Antipater, and another body of Jews under the command of Malichus and Pitholaus, these joined themselves to those captains that were about Marcus Antonius, and met Alexander; to which body came Gabinius with his main army soon afterward; and as Alexander was not able to sustain the charge of the enemies' forces, now they were joined, he retired. But when he was come near to Jerusalem, he was forced to fight, and lost six thousand men in the battle; three thousand of which fell down dead, and three thousand were taken alive; so he fled with the remainder to Alexandrium.
4. Now when Gabinius was come to Alexandrium, because he found a great many there en-camped, he tried, by promising them pardon for their former offenses, to induce them to come over to him before it came to a fight; but when they would hearken to no terms of accommodation, he slew a great number of them, and shut up a great number of them in the citadel. Now Marcus Antonius, their leader, signalized himself in this battle, who, as he always showed great courage, so did he never show it so much as now; but Gabinius, leaving forces to take the citadel, went away himself, and settled the cities that had not been demolished, and rebuilt those that had been destroyed. Accordingly, upon his injunctions, the following cities were restored: Scythopolis, and Samaria, and Anthedon, and Apollonia, and Jamnia, and Raphia, and Mariassa, and Adoreus, and Gamala, and Ashdod, and many others; while a great number of men readily ran to each of them, and became their inhabitants.
by D.H. Stern
26 To punish the innocent is not right,
likewise to flog noble people for their uprightness.
27 A knowledgeable person controls his tongue;
a discerning person controls his temper.
28 Even a fool, if he stays silent, is thought wise;
he who keeps his mouth shut can pass for smart.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The life that lives
Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. --- Luke 24:49.
The disciples had to tarry until the day of Pentecost not for their own preparation only; they had to wait until the Lord was glorified historically. As soon as He was glorified, what happened? “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” The parenthesis in John 7:39 (“For the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified”) does not apply to us; the Holy Ghost has been given, the Lord is glorified; the waiting depends not on God’s providence, but on our fitness.
The Holy Spirit’s influence and power were at work before Pentecost, but He was not here. Immediately Our Lord was glorified in Ascension, the Holy Spirit came into this world, and He has been here ever since. We have to receive the revelation that He is here. The reception of the Holy Spirit is the maintained attitude of a believer. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive quickening life from the ascended Lord.
It is not the baptism of the Holy Ghost which changes men, but the power of the ascended Christ coming into men’s lives by the Holy Ghost that changes them. We too often divorce what the New Testament never divorces. The baptism of the Holy Ghost is not an experience apart from Jesus Christ: it is the evidence of the ascended Christ.
The baptism of the Holy Ghost does not make you think of Time or Eternity, it is one amazing glorious NOW. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee.” Begin to know Him now, and finish never.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
It is a gesture against the wild,
The ungovernable sea of grass;
A place to remember love in,
To be lonely for a while;
To forget the voices of children
Calling from a locked room;
To substitute for the care
Of one querulous human
Hundreds of dumb needs.
It is the old kingdom of man.
Answering to their names,
Out of the soil the buds come,
The silent detonations
Of power wielded without sin.
Selected Poems, 1946-68
the Poetry of RS Thomas
It's a population of trees
Colonising the old
Haunts of men; I prefer,
Listening to their talk,
The bare language of grass
To what the woods say,
Standing in black crowds
Under the stars at night
Or in the sun's way.
The grass feeds the sheep;
The sheep give the wool
For warm clothing, but these ----?
I see the cheap times
Against which they grow:
Thin houses for dupes,
Pages of pale trash,
A world that has gone sour
With spruce. Cut them down,
They won't take the weight
Of any of the strong bodies
For which the wind sighs.
The Bread Of Truth
Jason and Jessica were driving to the beach for a day of sunning and swimming. Along the way, Jessica kept a sharp eye on the speedometer. Every time that the needle went above 55, she would let Jason know that he was speeding and that he had better ease up on the gas pedal. "What's the problem?" he asked. "The roads are empty … I'm not putting us in any danger by driving at 60!" Jessica was not impressed by the argument. "I don't care! It's against the law to drive over 55, so don't do it! I don't want us to get stopped by the police. Slow down!"
When they arrived at the beach, Jason noticed that the lifeguard stations were empty. Signs were posted everywhere: "Danger! No lifeguard on duty. Swim at your own risk." Jason was very nervous about going into the water. "Don't be a scaredy-cat" Jessica yelled. "Come on in! The water's fine!" "But there's no lifeguard," Jason answered. "And there are all those danger signs! I don't think we should swim today." Jessica shook her head: "We're not breaking any law.… We'll be fine. Let's swim!"
Many people make the same mistake as Jessica. They think that because something is not illegal, it must be safe. The truth is that there are many things which are legal but still dangerous. Smoking cigarettes may be the most common example in our society today.
We all know that it is important to heed the warnings that various authorities give us; they can literally save our lives. But we also need to learn that while others may look out for our welfare much of the time, there are countless situations each and every day when we are left on our own. At these instances, we have to depend not upon someone else to protect us but upon our own good common sense.
Is it possible for two kings to share one crown?
Text / Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi contrasted two verses. It is written: "God made the two great lights …" [Genesis 1:16] and it is written: "… the greater light [to dominate the day] and the lesser light [to dominate the night] …" [ibid]. The moon said to the Holy One, blessed be He: "Master of the World! Is it possible for two kings to share one crown?" He said to her: "Go, and make yourself smaller!" She said to Him: "Master of the World! Just because I said to You the correct thing, I have to make myself smaller?" He said to her: "Go, and rule over the day and the night." She said to Him: "What is so special about a lamp in the daylight? What purpose does it serve?" He said to her: "Go, Israel will calculate by you the days and the years." She said to Him: "But they cannot calculate the seasons without the sun, as it is written: 'They shall serve as signs for the set times—the days and the years' [Genesis 1:14]." "Go, the righteous shall be called by your name: Jacob ha-Katan [the lesser], Shmuel ha-Katan, David ha-Katan." When He saw that this did not console her, the Holy One, blessed be He said: "Bring a sacrifice of atonement for Me, for having made the moon smaller," and this is as Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: "What is different about the he-goat brought on Rosh Ḥodesh? As it says concerning it: '[And there shall be one goat as a sin offering] for the Lord' [Numbers 28:15, author's translation]. The Holy One, blessed be He said: 'This goat will be atonement for My having made the moon smaller.' "
Context / "O Lord God, pray forgive. How will Jacob survive? He is so small." (Amos 7:2)
Context / "The three oldest sons of Jesse had left and gone with Saul to the war. The names of his three sons who had gone to war were Eliab the first-born, the next Abinadab, and the third Shammah; and David was the youngest [smallest]." (1 Samuel 17:13–14)
Context / Shmuel ha-Katan was a leader and teacher in first century Israel. He was asked by Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh to compose a special prayer against the minim, the sectarians, and this paragraph became a standard part of the Amidah. According to one interpretation, he was known as ha-Katan because he was so humble, lessening his own importance.
Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi is intrigued by the fact that the sun and moon are first described by the Torah as equals ("the two great lights"), but are then characterized as a "greater" and a "lesser." This change is explained by a legend. Originally, the sun and moon were of equal size but after the moon complained that "two kings cannot share one crown," God reduced the moon in size. In other versions of this Midrash, the moon was punished for the sin of pride; here there is no logical reason why God should have made the moon smaller.
In trying to console the moon, God tells her that the title ha-Katan ("the lesser") is actually one of honor. Two great biblical figures, Jacob and David, and a great rabbinic personality, Shmuel, are all referred to by this same title.
The end of this piece pictures God deeply distressed over having made the moon smaller. To atone for this, God asks that a sacrifice be brought for this "sin" (!) on Rosh Ḥodesh (the festival of the New Month, which is marked by the virtual disappearance of the moon from the heavens). This incredible notion, that God committed a sin, comes from a clever reading of a Hebrew word in the list of sacrifices to be brought on the holidays. On Rosh Ḥodesh, the sacrifice is to be brought "la'donai." This can be read either as "to the Lord" (obviously, the intended meaning) or "for the Lord" (as Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish suggests). The latter reading implies that God must have done something wrong that required the bringing of an offering to atone for a mistake.
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
The Apologetics Study Bible
These 15 Psalms have the heading "a song of ascents"; that is, "going up" to Zion for the festivals; hence they are also called "pilgrim Psalms" or "Psalms of Zion." Older English versions thought of the "ascents" as graduated steps of the sanctuary, and called the psalm "a song of degrees."
120:5 Meshech is in Asia Minor near the Black Sea; Kedar is a word for the desert area in which Arab tribesmen wander (see Is 21:16–17; Ezk 27:21). How could the psalmist be in both places at the same time, even if they referred to widely scattered areas? The language is figurative; the psalmist lived among people who hated peace (v. 7), and they were like the hostile barbarians in these places.
121:1–2 The psalmist was contemplating ("I raise my eyes") the dangerous journey ("toward the mountains") and was concerned for his safety ("Where will my help come from?"). Alternatively, he thought of the mountains as sites for the worship of pagan deities, who were no help to anyone. He supplied his own answer: The One who made all things, including the hills, was his Protector.
121:3–6 The psalm concludes with a pronouncement of blessing in another voice (note the change in personal pronouns from "my" to "your"). Someone accompanying the pilgrim on the journey, such as a priest, was speaking. Or the setting for the psalm is not the pilgrimage to Zion but the sanctuary itself, once the worshiper reached it; the expression "coming and going" (v. 8) suggests that the speaker was at the site of the festival.
121:6 In a poetic image, the sun and the moon are not the literal heavenly bodies but represent what takes place under them—events occurring during the day and night that could, potentially, be harmful.
121:7–8 These verses could be translated as a "bidding prayer" ("May the Lord protect"). They can also be translated as a promise for the future, "The LORD will protect you from all harm" (most Bibles have a similar rendering). The immediate context was concerned with divine protection for the holy mission to the temple in obedience to the law, but the words in any rendering express a general belief of the faith, only occasionally cast into doubt (Ps 44).
122:1 The pilgrim psalmist reflected on the joy he felt when it was time to go to the holy city to observe the annual festivals. These times of celebration could extend for a week or more. Now the pilgrim found himself standing in the city, marveling at all its features.
122:4 The purpose of the people going to the festivals to worship was "to give thanks," expressing their loyalty to the Lord and reaffirming their gratitude for His covenant blessings (on the meaning of "giving thanks" in the OT, see note on 118:19).
122:5 The mention of "thrones of the house of David" indicates that there was probably a high court of appeals in the royal city. Local elders could handle routine cases, but the most difficult cases had to be brought to the leader of the nation or his representatives (72:2; cp. Ex 18:13–23; 1 Kg 3:16–28).
124:1–2 What appears to be a redundancy is actually a glimpse into the way the Psalms may have been performed. First the leader, or choirmaster, announced the title of the psalm (in biblical times, Scripture passages were identified by their opening words). Then, at his invitation, the congregation joined in to recite the entire piece.
124:4–5 The image of water is used for the threat to life (Lm 3:54; Jnh 2:3–4). Such language always brings to remembrance Israel's escape from Egyptian slavery, the great "saving" event that lies at the heart of OT faith.
Ps 125 The security of the true believer is like the security of Mount Zion that is surrounded by mountains; but those who turn aside to sin have no security in the Lord (see Heb 6:4–8; 1 Jn 2:19).
125:3 The scepter is the symbol of rule; "the scepter of the wicked" would refer to a corrupt and unjust rule by either a Gentile or an unrighteous Israelite or Judean king. Either situation was a threat to the righteous.
126:1 Any occasion when Jerusalem was restored to a position of peace and prominence would be a time for great celebration and recognition of what the Lord had done for his people. This could have occurred after some foreign threat had diminished (e.g., 2 Kg 18:9–19:36) or at the restoration of the Judeans to their homeland after the Babylonian exile. An alternate reading of the clause "we were like those who dream" occurs in the Greek OT and the Dead Sea Scrolls: "we were greatly comforted."
126:4–6 The psalmist prayed for the restoration of the land to its fruitfulness; "watercourses in the Negev" could refer to irrigation that made agriculture possible in southern Judah. A foreign invasion would force all local residents into the fortified cities, and a siege might last for several years during which time the land could not be worked. This would also have been the case during the Babylonian exile when depopulation of Judah meant that much of its farmland lay fallow. Getting it back into productivity required great effort; the psalmist described the labor of sowing and reaping and the joy of a successful harvest. In the context of return from exile, by "sowing" the psalmist could mean the effort to convince people still in the East to return and join in God's program to restore the community centered in Zion. "Reaping" would then refer to their response to this appeal. This figure of sowing and reaping was well known when Jesus used it in His parable of the sower, a picture of spreading the message of the kingdom (Mt 13:1–23). In many ways, Jesus was calling Israel back to the Lord from an "exile" of false religious hopes that centered on throwing off Roman domination.
127:2 It is not necessarily pointless, or vain, to rise early or stay up late. The key to understanding this verse is the phrase "eating food earned by hard work." The expression "hard work" translates the same word that is rendered "painful labor" in Gn 3:17; it stresses anxieties as well as painful experiences. The Bible commends the diligent worker (Pr 24:33–34; 2 Th 3:10–13; cp. Col 3:17), but to lengthen the day with anxious toil and stress only leads to greater problems of body and spirit. By contrast, the Lord gives sleep to the person He loves—the one who trusts Him (Ps 4:8). The psalm's words may apply equally to literal sleep and to the rest and peace of mind that sleep symbolizes. Anxious toil burns the candle at both ends. One can work hard at worthwhile projects (e.g., building a house—cp. v. 1, where "house" could even refer to the place of worship), but it is the Lord's involvement that makes the effort worthwhile and successful.
127:3–5 The verse reminds parents of their duties. Children are the Lord's gift, to be sure, but also a heritage that must be developed and improved. Having a strong family, with many sons, gives a man influence in the community—"at the city gate" (v. 5), the place of business and legal transactions. Before Israel had arrived at an understanding of the resurrection of the dead, a man's children were viewed as the instruments ("arrows," v. 4) of the continuing influence of his life.
129:3 The agricultural analogy of plowing is applied to the painful oppression of the psalmist's enemies: they plow his back. The image stresses their persecution and his suffering. Perhaps the speaker is referring to wrongful flogging because of the testimony of false accusers (Dt 25:1–3).
The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe
Relations with the Homeland Pt.1
An important question remains. How did Diaspora Jews relate to the homeland? Did the land of Israel beckon to those dwelling in distant places, a prime objective of the displaced, the principal means of realizing the destiny of the people for whom the “Return” represented the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise? Or had the Jews instead assimilated to life abroad, finding gratification in the concept that their identity resided in the “Book,” not in any territorial legitimation. For such Jews, restoration to the homeland was irrelevant and superfluous; the land of their residence rather than the home of the fathers constituted the cardinal attachment.
The dichotomy misleads and deceives. The whole idea of valuing homeland over Diaspora or Diaspora over homeland is off the mark. Second Temple Jews need not have faced so stark a choice.
The Bible, of course, has YHWH promise eventually to return the children of Israel from the most remote regions to the land of their fathers. And similar comments recur in Jewish Hellenistic writers who deplore the dispersal and forecast the ingathering of the exiles, as in the book of Tobit, the Psalms of Solomon, and Jubilees. But in each instance the termination of exile and the return to the homeland are connected to the reconstruction of the Temple. As a symbol of the faith, its demolition at the hands of Babylon had caused heartbreak and longing. But a comparable condition did not hold in the Hellenistic Diaspora. The Temple stood again in Jerusalem. And few Jews abroad were held there by constraint.
The generally satisfactory circumstances of the Diaspora defused any widespread passion for the “Return.” Jews, as we have seen, generally formed stable communities at places quite distant from Judea, entered into the social, economic, and political life of the nations they joined, and aspired to and obtained civic privileges in the cities of the Hellenistic world. Josephus maintains that Jews have every right to call themselves Alexandrians, Antiochenes, or Ephesians. And Philo refers to his home as “our Alexandria.” An inscription from the Phrygian city of Acmonia, set up by a Jew or group of Jews, alludes to the fulfillment of a vow made to the “whole patris.” This records a conspicuous and public pronouncement of local loyalty. Philo confirms the sentiment in striking fashion: Jews consider the holy city as their “metropolis,” but the states in which they were born and raised and which they acquired from their fathers, grandfathers, and distant forefathers they adjudge to be their patrides. That fervent expression denies any idea of the “doctrine of return.” Diaspora Jews, in Philo’s formulation at least, held a fierce attachment to the adopted lands of their ancestors.
None of this, however, diminished the sanctity and centrality of Jerusalem in the Jewish consciousness. The city’s aura retained a powerful hold on Jews, wherever they happened to reside. Even the pagan geographer Strabo observed the Jews’ devotion to their sacred “acropolis.” Numerous other texts characterize Palestine as the “Holy Land.” That designation appears in works as different as 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Testament of Job, the Sibylline Oracles, and Philo. Most, if not all, of those texts stem from the Diaspora. They underscore the reverence with which Jews around the Mediterranean continued to regard Jerusalem and the land of their fathers. But the authors who speak with reverence do not demand the “Return.” Commitment to one’s local or regional community was entirely compatible with devotion to Jerusalem. The two concepts in no way represented mutually exclusive alternatives.
What meaning, then, did the notion of a homeland have for Jews dwelling in scattered Mediterranean communities? They never yielded the principle. Jewish attitudes here, as in many other regards, corresponded with those of their pagan neighbors. Loyalty to one’s native land represented a frequent sentiment in the rhetoric of the Hellenistic world. Philo more than once endorses the idea that adherence to one’s native land held singular power. He puts failure to worship God on a level with neglecting to honor parents, benefactors, and native land. It does not follow, however, that Diaspora Jews set their hearts upon a return to the fatherland. Broad pronouncements about love of one’s country accord with general Hellenistic expressions. They do not require that those native environs be reinhabited for life to be complete.
Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans
Relations with the Homeland Pt.2
Jerusalem as concept and reality remained a powerful emblem of Jewish identity—not supplanted by the Book or disavowed by those who dwelled afar. It appears again and again in the texts of Second Temple authors as a symbol of the highest appeal. Yet this tenacious devotion did not entail a widespread desire to pull up stakes and return to the fatherland.
Jews reminded themselves and others every year of their commitment to Jerusalem. The reminder came in the form of a tithe paid to the Temple annually by Jews all over the Mediterranean. The ritualistic offering carried deep significance as a bonding device. That fact is vividly illustrated by an episode in the mid 60s B.C.E. A Roman governor of the province of Asia (essentially northwestern Asia Minor) banned the sending of gold by the Jews of the region to Jerusalem. This was part of a broader Roman policy and did not apply to Jews alone. But the solidarity of Jewish reaction was impressive. Word got back in great haste to the Jewish community in Rome. Demonstrations mobilized and strong pressure mounted on the Roman government by Jews in the city expressing concern in unequivocal terms for their compatriots abroad. The event underscores the importance of Jewish commitment to provide funds annually to the Temple from Italy and from all the provinces of the Roman Empire. Clearly the plight of Asian Jews who were prevented from making their contributions had powerful resonance among fellow Jews far off in Rome. The latter expressed their sentiments in no uncertain terms. Jerusalem and the Temple remained emblematic of their common purpose across the Mediterranean.
References to the gravity of the tithe abound. Josephus proudly observes that the donations came from Jews all over Asia and Europe, indeed from everywhere in the world, for countless years. When local authorities interfered with that activity, Jews would send up a howl to Rome—and usually get satisfaction. Areas beyond the reach of Roman power also tithed consistently. Jewish communities in Babylon and other satrapies under Parthian dominion sent representatives every year over difficult terrain and dangerous highways to deposit their contributions in the Temple. The value of paying homage to Jerusalem was undiminished. That annual act of obeisance constituted a repeated display of affection and allegiance, visible evidence of the unbroken attachment of the Diaspora to the center.
The remittance, however, did not imply that Jews viewed the Diaspora as no more than a temporary exile to be terminated by an ingathering in Jerusalem. Indeed, it implied the reverse. The yearly contribution proclaimed that the Diaspora could endure indefinitely—and quite satisfactorily. The communities abroad had successfully entrenched themselves; they were now mainstays of the center. Their fierce commitment to the tithe did not signify a desire for the “Return.” It rendered the Return unnecessary.
A comparable institution reinforces that inference: the pilgrimage of Diaspora Jews to Jerusalem. Major festivals could attract them with some frequency and in substantial numbers. According to Philo, myriads came from countless cities for every feast, over land and sea, from all points of the compass, to enjoy the Temple as a serene refuge from the hurly-burly of everyday life abroad. Josephus informs us that the women’s court at the Temple was large enough to accommodate those who resided in the land and those who arrived from abroad—a clear sign that numerous female pilgrims came with some regularity.
The Holy City was a compelling magnet. But the demonstration of devotion did not entail a desire for migration. Pilgrimage, in fact, by its very nature, signified a temporary payment of respect. Jerusalem possessed an irresistible claim on the emotions of Diaspora Jews, forming a critical part of their identity. But home was elsewhere.
The self-perception of Second Temple Jews projected a tight solidarity between center and Diaspora. Images of exile and separation did not haunt them. What affected the dwellers in Jerusalem affected Jews everywhere. The theme of intertwined experience and identity recurs with impressive frequency and variety in Second Temple literature. The two letters affixed to the beginning of 2 Maccabees illustrate the point. The Jews of Jerusalem take for granted the intimate relationship that exists with their brethren in Egypt. The preamble of the first letter greets them as “brothers” to “brothers” and alludes to their common heritage: God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the concluding lines of the second letter make reference to the desired reunion of all Jews in the holy site. The latter delivers a summons to Egyptian Jews to attend the newly instituted festival, thus to celebrate the purification of the Temple, a reaffirmation of the solidarity among Jews everywhere. It reflects the practice of pilgrimage, not a program to dissolve the Diaspora.
The Letter of Aristeas makes an equally forceful statement about the connection between Jerusalemites and other Jews. King Ptolemy’s missive to the high priest in Judea asserts that his motive in having the Hebrew Bible rendered into Greek is to benefit not only the Jews of Egypt but all Jews throughout the world, including those yet unborn. One may legitimately question whether the king ever made such a statement. But the Jewish author of the Letter conceived or conveyed it. And that is the point. At the conclusion of the work, when the scholars from Jerusalem complete their translation and have it read out to the Jews of Egypt, the large assembly bursts into applause, a dramatic expression of the unity of purpose.
Historical events reinforce the evidence of literary creations. As we have seen, the demonstrations of Roman Jews on behalf of their compatriots in Asia whose contributions to the Temple were in jeopardy reveal a strong sense of Jewish fellowship across the Mediterranean. Another, very different, episode adds conformation. At the height of the Roman civil war, Julius Caesar found himself besieged in Alexandria in 48/47 B.C.E. A troop of three thousand Jewish soldiers marched to his rescue. But Egyptian Jews who dwelled at Leontopolis, site of a long-standing Jewish enclave, blocked their path. The stalemate, however, was swiftly broken. The Jewish commander overcame the resistance of the Leontopolitans by appealing to their common nationality and their common loyalty to the high priest in Jerusalem. No further persuasion proved necessary. The Jews of both Leontopolis and Memphis declared themselves for Caesar and helped to turn the tide of war. The connection between Judea and Diaspora held firm.
A similar conclusion derives from quite a different occasion. The death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E. prompted a major discussion in Rome on the future of the regime. Fifty envoys came to Rome from Judea urging Emperor Augustus to put an end to the rule of the Herodian family. And 8,000 Jews resident in Rome, so we are told, joined their fellow Jews in this lobbying effort. A network of connections across the Mediterranean made it possible. And the interests coincided. When a pretender to the throne of Herod emerged, claiming to be a reincarnation of one of Herod’s sons, he found widespread support from Jews in Crete, in Melos, and in Rome itself. The network was extensive. Such events provide a revealing window upon the lively interest and occasionally energetic engagement of Diaspora Jews in the affairs of Palestine.
The affiliations emerge most dramatically in the grave crises that marked the reign of the emperor Caligula (37–41 C.E.). Bitter conflict erupted in Alexandria, bringing harsh sufferings upon the Jews of that city. And a still worse menace loomed over Jerusalem when the eccentric and unpredictable Roman emperor proposed to have a statue for pagan worship installed in the Temple. When Alexandrian Jews were attacked, says Philo (a contemporary of the events), the word spread like wildfire. Reports swept not only through all the districts of Egypt but from there to the nations of the East and from the borders of Libya to the lands of the West. Philo’s claims of such speedy communications may stretch a point, but the concept of tight interrelationships among Jews of the Diaspora is plain and potent. With regard to news of Caligula’s decision to erect a statue in the Temple, Philo’s description is telling: the most grievous calamity fell unexpectedly and brought peril not to one part of the Jewish people but to the entire nation at once. The disaster was averted, thanks in part to a letter of the Jewish prince Agrippa I, a friend of the emperor and recent recipient of a kingdom among the Jews. Agrippa urgently alerted Caligula to the gravity of the situation. He made it clear that an affront to Jerusalem would have vast repercussions: the Holy City was not merely the metropolis of Judea but of most nations in the world since Jewish colonies thrived all over the Near East, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedon, Africa, and the lands beyond the Euphrates. The image of Jerusalem binding together Jews everywhere in the world remained central in the self-perception of the Diaspora.
A moving passage elsewhere in Philo encapsulates this theme. Although he thrived in the Diaspora, enjoyed its advantages, and broadcast its virtues, Philo nevertheless found even deeper meaning in the land of Israel. He interprets the Shavuot festival as a celebration of the Jews’ possession of their own land, a heritage now of long standing, and a means whereby they could cease their wandering. Philo saw no inconsistency or contradiction. Diaspora Jews might find fulfillment and reward in their communities abroad. But they honored Judea as a refuge for those who were once displaced and unsettled—and the prime legacy of all.
Josephus makes the point in a quite different context but with equal force. In his rewriting of Numbers he places a sweeping prognostication in the mouth of the Midianite priest Balaam. The priest projects a glorious future for the Israelites: they will not only occupy and hold forever the land of Canaan, a chief signal of God’s favor, but their multitudes will fill all the world, islands, and continents, outnumbering even the stars in the heavens. That is a notable declaration. Palestine, as ever, merits a special place. But the Diaspora, far from being a source of shame to be overcome, represents a resplendent achievement.
The respect and awe one paid to the Holy Land stood in full harmony with a commitment to the local community and allegiance to Gentile governance. Diaspora Jews did not bewail their fate and pine away for the homeland. Nor, by contrast, did they shrug off the homeland and reckon the Book as surrogate for the Temple. Palestine mattered, and it mattered in a territorial sense—but not as a required residence. Gifts to the Temple and pilgrimages to Jerusalem announced simultaneously one’s devotion to the symbolic heart of Judaism and a singular pride in the accomplishments of the Diaspora.
None of this, of course, suggests that the experience of Jews in the Diaspora was everywhere and always untroubled, serene, and harmonious. Outbursts of violence and turbulence occasionally shattered their existence. Most notoriously, tensions among Greeks, Egyptians, and Jews in Alexandria, exacerbated by insensitive Roman overlordship, resulted in a bloody assault on Jews in 38 C.E. A quarter century later, the outbreak of Jewish rebellion against Roman rule in Palestine also had reverberations in the Diaspora. The Jews of Alexandria were victimized by a riot in 66 C.E. and, when they retaliated, encountered fierce Roman reprisals administered by Tiberius Julius Alexander, himself a Jew now in Roman service. The temple at Leontopolis in Egypt, which had stood for more than two centuries, also suffered destruction in that upheaval. A still wider Diaspora rebellion occurred in 116 C.E., involving Jews in Cyrene, Egypt, Cyprus, and possibly Mesopotamia. What caused these uprisings remains unknown. But the Roman crackdown, ordered by the emperor Trajan, was harsh, terminating the existence of many Jewish communities in these regions.
Episodes of this sort cause little surprise in the circumstances of rivalries and tensions in multiethnic societies. What is noteworthy, however, is their remarkable rarity. Given that our sources dwell on violence and upheaval when they can, the relative absence of such turmoil in our evidence is particularly significant. Even in Egypt, over a period of four centuries, the outbreak of hostilities is very much the exception rather than the norm. Elsewhere in the Diaspora, in Italy, mainland Greece, Asia Minor, and Babylon, no serious disquiet stands on record—and Jewish communities continued to thrive.
Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. --- John 21:6.
They had toiled all night and caught nothing; isn’t that a description of many human lives? (The World's Great RS Thomas, Volume 10 Drummond to Jowett, and General Index ) “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” asks the quiet voice from the shore, and they answer, “No.” All the heartbreak and disappointment of the world cry aloud in that confession. Oh, I could fill an hour with the mere recital of the names of great and famous people who have toiled through a long life and, as the last gray hour came over their dim sea of life, “brackish with the salt of human tears,” have acknowledged with infinite bitterness that they have caught nothing. Surely here is some tragic mismanagement of the great business of living. Is it true of you that, after all the painful years, happiness is not yours? You have no meat, no food on which the heart feeds, no green pasture in the soul, no table in the wilderness, and the last gray day draws near and will find you still hungering for what life has never given you.
Learn, then, that Christ knows more about the proper management of your life than you do. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat,” speaks that quiet voice from the shore. And you know what happened. And it is so still. Just because Christ stands among the common things of life, he knows most about life, and, above all, he knows where the golden fruit of happiness is found and where the secret wells of peace.
And to some of us whom God has called to be fishers of souls the issue is yet more solemn. We have the boat and the nets, all this elaborate organization of the church, but have we caught anything this year? Where is the catch of fish? Where are the women and men saved by our triumphant effort? Only lately have I found the right side of the ship; only lately have I discovered how easy it is to get the great catch of fish by simply going to work in Christ’s way. Go for them—that is Christ’s method. Compel them to come in. And if your experience is like mine, you will find that there is strangely little compulsion needed to bring people to Christ. I ask you whether you really want a great catch of fish, for you can have it if you want it. Christ knows the business better than you do, and if you will come out of the cloister of the church and seek the people in his spirit, I promise you that very soon you will not be able to drag the net for the multitude of fish.
--- William Dawson
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Sunset May 27
If a beautiful death authenticates a holy life, then we can feel good about John Calvin. On February 6, 1564 Calvin, 55 years old, stood for the last time in his pulpit at Saint Pierre in Geneva. In mid-sermon, he was seized by a coughing fit and his mouth filled with blood. He slowly forced his way down the circular staircase from the pulpit, his sermon unfinished.
On Easter Sunday, April 2, he was carried back to Saint Pierre’s and sat near the pulpit, listening as Theodore Beza preached. At the end of the service, Calvin joined the congregation in singing a final hymn, “Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” He was taken to his bed, still working feverishly on his papers. When friends begged him to rest, he replied, “What! Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?” On April 30 the Geneva Council gathered around him. He spoke to them, prayed for them, and gave his right hand to each one. The men left the bedroom weeping like children. Two days later Geneva’s ministers paid a similar visit. Calvin asked pardon for his failings, pointed the men to Christ and grasped their hands tenderly. They, too, parted with anguished tears.
When it appeared the end was near, his friend and mentor, 80-year-old William Farel, set out on foot, walking a long distance, hoping to make it in time. He arrived covered with dust to join others who had gathered at the deathwatch. Calvin lingered, quoting Scripture and praying continually, until Saturday, May 27, 1564, just as the sun was setting. He passed from one life to another very quietly, without twitch or gasp or even a deeper sigh. “On this day with the setting sun,” said Beza, “the brightest light in the Church of God on earth was taken to heaven!” Geneva mourned deeply.
Calvin had instructed that his body be laid in a common cemetery with no tombstone. He didn’t want his grave becoming a shrine as tombs of earlier saints had become. It didn’t—today his grave site is unknown.
“Lord, I am your servant, and now I can die in peace, because you have kept your promise to me. With my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people, and foreign nations will also see this. Your mighty power is a light for all nations. … ” --- Luke 2:29-32a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - May 27
“So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem: for he did eat continually at the king’s table; and was lame on both his feet.” --- 2 Samuel 9:13.
Mephibosheth was no great ornament to a royal table, yet he had a continual place at David’s board, because the king could see in his face the features of the beloved Jonathan. Like Mephibosheth, we may cry unto the King of Glory, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldst look upon such a dead dog as I am?” but still the Lord indulges us with most familiar intercourse with himself, because he sees in our countenances the remembrance of his dearly-beloved Jesus. The Lord’s people are dear for another’s sake. Such is the love which the Father bears to his only begotten, that for his sake he raises his lowly brethren from poverty and banishment, to courtly companionship, noble rank, and royal provision. Their deformity shall not rob them of their privileges. Lameness is no bar to sonship; the cripple is as much the heir as if he could run like Asahel. Our right does not limp, though our might may. A king’s table is a noble hiding-place for lame legs, and at the Gospel feast we learn to glory in infirmities, because the power of Christ resteth upon us. Yet grievous disability may mar the persons of the best-loved saints. Here is one feasted by David, and yet so lame in both his feet that he could not go up with the king when he fled from the city, and was therefore maligned and injured by his servant Ziba. Saints whose faith is weak, and whose knowledge is slender, are great losers; they are exposed to many enemies, and cannot follow the king whithersoever he goeth. This disease frequently arises from falls. Bad nursing in their spiritual infancy often causes converts to fall into a despondency from which they never recover, and sin in other cases brings broken bones. Lord, help the lame to leap like an hart, and satisfy all thy people with the bread of thy table!
Evening - May 27
“What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” --- 2 Samuel 9:8.
If Mephibosheth was thus humbled by David’s kindness, what shall we be in the presence of our gracious Lord? The more grace we have, the less we shall think of ourselves, for grace, like light, reveals our impurity. Eminent saints have scarcely known to what to compare themselves, their sense of unworthiness has been so clear and keen. “I am,” says holy Rutherford, “a dry and withered branch, a piece of dead carcass, dry bones, and not able to step over a straw.” In another place he writes, “Except as to open outbreakings, I want nothing of what Judas and Cain had.” The meanest objects in nature appear to the humbled mind to have a preference above itself, because they have never contracted sin: a dog may be greedy, fierce, or filthy, but it has no conscience to violate, no Holy Spirit to resist. A dog may be a worthless animal, and yet by a little kindness it is soon won to love its master, and is faithful unto death; but we forget the goodness of the Lord, and follow not at his call. The term “dead dog” is the most expressive of all terms of contempt, but it is none too strong to express the self- abhorrence of instructed believers. They do not affect mock modesty, they mean what they say, they have weighed themselves in the balances of the sanctuary, and found out the vanity of their nature. At best, we are but clay, animated dust, mere walking hillocks; but viewed as sinners, we are monsters indeed. Let it be published in heaven as a wonder, that the Lord Jesus should set his heart’s love upon such as we are. Dust and ashes though we be, we must and will “magnify the exceeding greatness of his grace.” Could not his heart find rest in heaven? Must he needs come to these tents of Kedar for a spouse, and choose a bride upon whom the sun had looked? O heavens and earth, break forth into a song, and give all glory to our sweet Lord Jesus.
Morning and Evening
HAPPY THE HOME WHEN GOD IS THERE
Henry Ware Jr., 1794–1843
… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)
The beauty of the home is order;
the blessing of the home is contentment;
The glory of the home is hospitality;
the crown of the home is godliness.
This is the season when our attention is especially directed to the basic social institution in society, the home, with special days for recognizing mothers, fathers, and children. The strength of any nation is the quality of its homes. “In love of home, the love of country has its rise” said Charles Dickens.
Home should be the holy of holies in a person’s life, a place where ultimate love and acceptance are found between parents and with the children. The real test of a parent’s spirituality is his home life—the daily demonstration of a Christ-like character. As parents, our responsibility is not only to feed and clothe our children’s bodies, but to nurture their spirits, their minds, and their moral values. By word and by personal example we must carefully guide our children and fervently seek to show them what it means to be a Christian. Good parenting also involves maintaining strong lines of communication between all members of the family. This demands quality time spent together in discussions, social times, daily spiritual retreats, and weekly periods of instruction and worship in the local church.
This fine text was written by an ordained Unitarian minister, Henry Ware, who later became pastor of the Second Unitarian Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The well-known American poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, served for a time as Ware’s assistant. The hymn first appeared in Selection of Hymns and Poetry for Use of Infant and Juvenile Schools and Families, published in 1846.
Happy the home when God is there and love fills ev’ry breast, when one their wish and one their prayer and one their heav’nly rest.
Happy the home where Jesus’ name is sweet to ev’ry ear, where children early lisp His fame and parents hold Him dear.
Happy the home where prayer is heard and praise is wont to rise, where parents love the sacred Word and all its wisdom prize.
Lord, let us in our homes agree this blessed peace to gain; unite our hearts in love to Thee, and love to all will reign.
For Today: Deuteronomy 6:7 Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 5:21–23; 6:4.
Reflect on ways that you could improve the quality of your home. Does God really have His rightful place as the foundation of the home? Carry this musical message with you as you seriously consider these matters ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XXXVII. — BUT here, perhaps, you will say — all that you have advanced is nothing to me. I do not say that the Scriptures are every where obscure (for who would be so mad?) but that they are obscure in this, and the like parts. — I answer: I do not advance these things against you only, but against all who are of the same sentiments with you. Moreover, I declare against you concerning the whole of the Scripture, that I will have no one part of it called obscure: and, to support me, stands that which I have brought forth out of Peter, that the word of God is to us a “lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter i. 19.) But if any part of this lamp do not shine, it is rather a part of the dark place than of the lamp itself. For Christ has not so illuminated us, as to wish that any part of His word should remain obscure, even while He commands us to attend to it: for if it be not shiningly plain, His commanding us to attend to it is in vain.
Wherefore, if the doctrine concerning “Free-will” be obscure and ambiguous, it does not belong unto Christians and the Scriptures, and is, therefore to be left alone entirely, and classed among those “old wives’ fables” (1 Tim. iv. 7.) which Paul condemns in contentious Christians. But if it do belong unto Christians and the Scriptures, it ought to be clear, open, and manifest, and in every respect like unto all the other most evident articles of faith. For all the articles of faith which belong unto Christians ought to be such, as may not only be most evident to themselves but so defended by manifest and clear Scriptures against the adversaries, as to stop the mouths of them all, that they shall not be able in any thing to gainsay. And this Christ has promised us, saying, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist.” But if our mouth be weak in this part, that the adversaries are able to resist, His saying, that no adversary shall be able to resist our mouth, is false. In the doctrine of “Free-will,” therefore, we shall either have no adversaries, (which will be the case if it belong not unto us;) or, if it belong unto us, we shall have adversaries indeed, but such as will not be able to resist.
But concerning the inability of our adversaries to resist, (as that particular falls in here,) I would, by the way, observe that it is thus: — It does not mean, that they are forced to yield with the heart, or to confess, or be silent. For who can compel men against their will to yield, confess their error, and be silent? ‘What (saith Augustine), is more loquacious than vanity?’ But what is meant by their mouths being stopped, their not having a word to gainsay, and their saying many things, and yet, in the judgment of common sense, saying nothing, will be best illustrated by examples.
When Christ, put the Sadducees to silence by proving the resurrection from the dead, out of that Scripture of Moses. (Matt. xxii. 23-32.) “I am the God of Abraham, &c., God is not the God of the dead but of the living;” (Exod. iii. 6,) this they were not able to resist, nor had they a word to gainsay. But did they, therefore, cease from their opinion?
And how often did he, by the most evident Scriptures and arguments, so confute the Pharisees, that the very people saw them to be confuted openly, and they themselves felt it. Nevertheless, they still perseveringly continued His adversaries.
Stephen, (Acts vi. 10,) so spoke, that, according to the testimony of Luke, “they could not resist the spirit and the wisdom with which he spake.” But what did they? Did they yield? No! from their shame of being overcome and their inability to resist, they became furious, and shutting their eyes and ears they suborned false witnesses against him. (Acts vi. 11-l3.)
Behold how the same apostle, standing in the council, confutes his adversaries, while he enumerates to that people the mercies of God unto them from their beginning, and proves to them, that God never commanded a temple to be built unto Him: (for it was upon that point they then held him as guilty, and that was the subject in dispute.) At length however, he grants, that there was a temple built under Solomon. But then he takes up the point in this way: “but the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” And to prove this, he brings forward Isaiah the prophet, lxvi. 1, “What is the house that ye build unto Me?” And, tell me, what could they here say against a Scripture so manifest? Yet still, not at all moved by it, they stood fixed in their own opinion. Wherefore, he then launches forth on them saying, “Ye uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, &c.” (Acts vii 51.) He saith, “ye do resist,” although they were not able to resist.
But let us come to our own times. John Huss preached thus against the Pope from Matt. xvi. 18 — ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against my church. Is there there any obscurity or ambiguity? But the gates of hell do prevail against the Pope and his, for they are notorious throughout the world of their open impiety and iniquities. Is there any obscurity here either? ERGO: THE POPE AND HIS, ARE NOT THE CHURCH CONCERNING WHICH CHRIST SPEAKS.’ — What could they gainsay here? How could they resist the mouth that Christ had given him? Yet, they did resist, and persist until they had burnt him: so far were they from yielding to Him, in heart. And this is the kind of resistance to which Christ alludes when He saith, “Your adversaries shall not be able to resist.” (Luke xxi. 15.) He says they are “adversaries;” therefore they will resist, for otherwise, they would not remain adversaries, but would become friends, And yet He says, they “shall not be able to resist.” What is this else but saying — though they resist, they shall not be able to resist?
If therefore, I also shall be enabled so to refute the doctrine of “Free-will,” that the adversaries shall not be able to resist, although they persist in their opinion, and go on to resist contrary to their conscience, I shall have done enough. For I know well, by experience, how unwilling every one is to be overcome; and (as Quintillian says,) ‘that there is no one, who would not rather appear to know, than to be taught.’ Although, now-a-days all men, in all places, have this proverb on their tongue, but more from use, or rather abuse, than from heart-reality — ‘I am willing to learn, and I am ready to follow what is better, when I am taught it by admonition: I am man, and liable to err.’ Because, under this mask, this fair semblance of humility, they can with plausible confidence say; ‘I am not fully satisfied of it.’ ‘I do not comprehend it.’ ‘He does violence to the Scriptures.’ ‘He asserts so obstinately.’ And they nestle under this confidence, taking it for granted, that no one would ever suspect, that souls of so much humility could, ever pertinaciously resist and determinately impugn the known truth. Hence their not yielding in heart, is not to be imputed to their malice, but to the obscurity and duplicity of their arguments.
In the same manner did the philosophers of the Greeks, act; who, that the one might not appear to give up to the other, though evidently confuted, began, as Aristotle records, to deny first principles. In the same way we would mildly persuade ourselves and others, that there are in the world many good men, who would willingly embrace the truth, if there were but one who could plainly shew which it is; and that, it is not to be supposed, that so many learned men, in such a course of ages, were all in error, and did not know that truth. — As though we knew not, that the world is the kingdom of Satan, where, in addition to the natural blindness that is engendered in our flesh, and those most wicked spirits also which have dominion over us, we grow hardened in that very blindness, and are bound in a darkness, no longer human, but devilish.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
11 “Surely Goodness and Love Will Follow Me . . .”
There remains in my own mind boyhood recollections of the first stories I was told about Jesus Christ as a man amongst us. His life was summed up in the simple, terse, but deeply profound statement, “He went about, doing good!” It was as though this was the loftiest, noblest, most important thing on which He could possibly spend His few short years.
But I also was deeply impressed by the fact that His good and kindly acts were always commingled with mercy. Where so often other human beings were rude and harsh and vindictive of one another, His compassion and tenderness were always apparent. Even the most flagrant sinners found forgiveness with Him, whereas at the hands of their fellow men they knew only condemnation, censure, and cruel criticism.
And again I have to ask myself: Is this my attitude to other people? Do I sit up on my pedestal of self-pride and look with contempt upon my contemporaries, or do I get down and identify myself with them in their dilemma and there extend a small measure of the goodness and mercy given to me by my Master?
Do I see sinners with the compassion of Christ or with the critical eye of censure?
Am I willing to overlook faults and weaknesses in others and extend forgiveness as God has forgiven me my failings?
The only real, practical measure of my appreciation for the goodness and mercy of God to me is the extent to which I am, in turn, prepared to show goodness and mercy to others.
If I am unable to forgive and extend friendship to fallen men and women, then it is quite certain I know little or nothing in a practical sense of Christ’s forgiveness and mercy to me.
It is this lack of love among Christians, which today makes the church an insipid, lukewarm institution. People come to find affection and are turned off by our tepidity.
But men and women who know firsthand about the goodness and mercy of God in their own lives will be warm and affectionate with goodness and mercy to others. This is to be a benefit to them, but equally important, it is to be a blessing to God.
Yes, a blessing to God!
Most of us think only God can bring a blessing to us. The Christian life is a two-way proposition.
Nothing pleased me more than to see my flock flourish and prosper. It delighted me personally to no end to feel compensated for the care I had given them. To see them content was wonderful. To see the land benefiting was beautiful. And the two together made me a happy man. It enriched my own life; it was a reward for my efforts and energy. In this experience I received full compensation for all that I had poured into the endeavor.
Most of us forget that our Shepherd is looking for some satisfaction as well. We are told that He looked upon the travail of His soul and was satisfied.
This is the benefit we can bring to Him.
He looks on my life in tenderness, for He loves me deeply. He sees the long years during which His goodness and mercy have followed me without slackening. He longs to see some measure of that same goodness and mercy not only passed on to others by me but also passed back to Him with joy.
He longs for love—my love.
And I love Him — only and because He first loved me.
1 John 4:19 We love because he first loved us. ESV
Then He is satisfied.
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