Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Matthew 23-25

In chapter twenty-three, Jesus continues to speak to the crowds in the temple courts. He condemns "the teachers of the law and the Pharisees" as "blind guides" and "hypocrites." He condemns their demonstrative shows of holiness ("they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.") Seven times, he begins a statement with "Woe to you!"

Matthew twenty-four is apocalyptic in nature, as the disciples ask Jesus, "what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" He warns that "nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains." He tells them that "false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect." Despite that, he says that "no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father," and that they must be faithful and keep watch. And when the time comes, "at the coming of the Son of Man, two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left."

In chapter twenty-five, he illustrates for them the importance of keeping watch and being faithful stewards with the parables of the ten virgins and the talents. And he talks about the people being separated "as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." The righteous will have eternal life, the cursed will not. And he tells them that "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me...whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Matthew 23 is an extended passage that clearly places Jesus in the Jewish prophetic tradition. It sounds as if it could have come from Isaiah or Jeremiah.
  • Much of chapter 24 reads as if it could have come from Revelation.

Psalms 56

Psalm 56 is another with a tune specified.

Some of these I'll need to re-read after I've gone through 1 & 2 Samuel again. I don't remember the Philistines seizing David in Gath, so I'm not certain of the context of this psalm.

Psalm 56
For the director of music. To the tune of "A Dove on Distant Oaks." Of David. A miktam . When the Philistines had seized him in Gath.
1 Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me;
all day long they press their attack.

2 My slanderers pursue me all day long;
many are attacking me in their pride.

3 When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

5 All day long they twist my words;
they are always plotting to harm me.

6 They conspire, they lurk,
they watch my steps,
eager to take my life.

7 On no account let them escape;
in your anger, O God, bring down the nations.

8 Record my lament;
list my tears on your scroll —
are they not in your record?

9 Then my enemies will turn back
when I call for help.
By this I will know that God is for me.

10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise-

11 in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12 I am under vows to you, O God;
I will present my thank offerings to you.

13 For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Matthew 20-22

Chapter twenty opens with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, with Jesus telling his disciples that, when it came to the kingdom of heaven, "the last will be first, and the first will be last." Then, as they started to go up to Jerusalem, he again told his disciples that he would be betrayed and condemned to death, flogged and crucified, and that "on the third day he will be raised to life." When the mother of James and John asked that they be allowed to sit at his right and left hands in the kingdom of heaven, he told them that "you don't know what you are asking" and that "to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father." He then healed two blind men.

In chapter twenty-one, they approached Jerusalem, and he sent them to get a colt and a donkey, for him to ride into the city on, so that they prophecy of Zechariah would be fulfilled. Crowds lined the way, shouting "Hosanna!" Jesus entered the temple area and "drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves," before going back to spend the night in Bethany. The next morning, he cursed a fig tree that had no figs, and it withered immediately. While he was teaching in the temple courts, the elders and priests asked by whose authority he was teaching and healing, and he responded by asking them where John's baptism came from, heaven or earth. Not wanting to anger the crowds, they declined to respond, and he told them that he wouldn't tell them where his authority came from, either. He taught the parable of the two sons, and the parable of the tenants, and "when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them."

Chapter twenty-two starts with the parable of the wedding banquet, followed by the discussion of taxes. When the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, he pointed out Caesar's image on the coin and told them that they should "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." In response to a discussion about marriage and multiple marriage, he taught them that "at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven." And he taught them that the greatest commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and the second was to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I wrote about this in my commentary on Mark, I think, and may have mentioned it in Leviticus as well, but the story of the money changers and "those selling doves" has to have more to it. The law requires those who live far away to convert their offerings to silver, come to the temple and then buy doves to sacrifice. Those people are part of the Levitical system. We read that and we're "shocked - shocked! - to find that there are money-changers in the temple." But they're necessary for those who live far from the temple to be able to fulfill their sacrificial duties.

Psalms 50

This interesting in the way that the voice changes. At the beginning, the psalmist is praying directly to God - "Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea." But later, the voice changes, as he speaks not to God, but to another man, a friend - "it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God..."

Psalm 55
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.
1 Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;

2 hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught

3 at the voice of the enemy,
at the stares of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering upon me
and revile me in their anger.

4 My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.

5 Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.

6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-

7 I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;

8 I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm."

9 Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech,
for I see violence and strife in the city.

10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
malice and abuse are within it.

11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
threats and lies never leave its streets.

12 If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were raising himself against me,
I could hide from him.

13 But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,

14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
as we walked with the throng at the house of God.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
let them go down alive to the grave,
for evil finds lodging among them.

16 But I call to God,
and the LORD saves me.

17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.

18 He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me.

19 God, who is enthroned forever,
will hear them and afflict them—
men who never change their ways
and have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.

21 His speech is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.

23 But you, O God, will bring down the wicked
into the pit of corruption;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men
will not live out half their days.
But as for me, I trust in you.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Matthew 17-19

Chapter seventeen opens with Jesus, Peter, James and John on a high mountain, where he was "transfigured before them," and they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus and heard "a voice from the cloud" say "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" As they later walked down, Jesus told them that they mustn't tell anyone what they had seen "until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead," and indicated that John the Baptist had been the second coming of Elijah. When they were back in the crowd, he drove a demon out of a boy and told the disciples that they had failed to do it because "you have so little faith." He also told them that he would be betrayed and killed, and raised "to life" "on the third day." In Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to them for the tax, and Jesus told Peter to go throw his line into the lake, and to open the mouth of the first fish that he caught "and you will find a four drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

In chapter eighteen, Jesus tells the disciples that "whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" and that "if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell." He uses the parable of the lost sheep to describe God's unwillingness that "any of these little ones should be lost." He tells them how to deal with a brother who "sins against you," giving him chances to repent and that "if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector," and then shares the parable of the unmerciful servant to show how God will treat those who are not forgiving.

In chapter nineteen, the Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce, and told them that "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard," and that "anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Again, he told his disciples that "the kingdom of heaven belongs to" little children. A rich young man asked Jesus what he had to do to get eternal life, and, after confirming that he kept the commandments, Jesus told him to "sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me," which saddened him, and he went away. Jesus told his disciples that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and they asked "who then can be saved?" Jesus told them, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I confess that the story of Jesus' transfiguration, complete with the presence of Moses and Elijah, reads more like pure theology than history. But all three of the synoptics have it, so it's clear that the apostles believed it.
  • I suspect that most of us, in chapter nineteen, read about the "rich young man" and focus on the word "rich." What strikes me today is the exchange where Jesus tells him, essentially, to follow the commandments and the law, and he replies that he has done so all of his life. So rather than think of him as "rich," I think we need to think of him as "pious." This is an observer of the law, a pious Jew, who has done everything that God commanded. Jesus tells him, in effect, "that's not good enough." This certainly isn't the first time - think back to the Sermon on the Mount, which consists, in several places, of "you have been told...but I tell you..." Jesus has been clear in all of his teaching that just following the law isn't enough. But here, there's an actual face put to it, an individual who has followed the commandments, and Jesus tells him specifically that it's not good enough.
  • Which of us cannot sympathize with the "rich young man?" Which of us would in fact be willing to give up everything? It's just as hard for us whether we're "rich" in our society or "poor." We all have worldly possessions to which we become attached, that we would never give up without great inducement. Indeed, if we were honest, we'd thank God daily that Jesus isn't here to demand it of us in person, because it's a lot easier to pretend that it doesn't apply to us when it's directed to a specific someone else.
  • I have heard/read many possible explanations for Jesus' comments about a camel passing through the eye of the needle. Among the plausible sounding:
    • The "camel" is a large rope made of camel hair. Impossible to pass through the eye of a needle.
    • The "eye of the needle" is a small city gate big enough for a man, through which it might be possible, though very difficult, to squeeze a camel.
    • Literal camel, literal eye of needle. Clearly impossible.
    While there may or may not be cultural or linguistic reasons to accept any of those hypotheses, I've seen nothing that makes me think it really requires that kind of analysis. It is clear, from the disciples' reaction ("who then can be saved?"), that what Jesus said, whatever the specific meanings of the object and the opening, was an impossible task. We cannot "earn" our way into heaven. It is only through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that we can make our way into the presence.

Psalms 54

This is a prayer of David, a psalm of praise and supplication. He pleads for help - "Save me, O God...Hear my prayer, O God..." - and praises the Lord at the same time - "the Lord is the one who sustains your faithfulness destroy them...I will praise your name, O LORD, for it is good..."

Psalm 54
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, "Is not David hiding among us?"
1 Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.

2 Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.

3 Strangers are attacking me;
ruthless men seek my life—
men without regard for God.

4 Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me.

5 Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
in your faithfulness destroy them.

6 I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
I will praise your name, O LORD,
for it is good.

7 For he has delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Matthew 14-16

Chapter fourteen starts with the story of Herod beheading John the Baptist at the behest of his brother Philip's wife Herodias' daughter. Jesus, upon hearing the news, "withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place" but crowds followed him on foot. "He had compassion on them and healed their sick." As night came, the disciples urged him to send the crowd away to find something to eat, but Jesus told the disciples to feed them. When they told him that they only had five loaves of bread and two fish, he prayed and broke them, and fed five thousand with twelve basketfuls left over. He then sent the disciples to the other side in the boat, and prayed by himself on the mountainside, then followed them by walking across the water. When they saw him they feared, but he told them not to be afraid, and Peter walked out on the water with him until he began to sink and cried for help. Jesus rebuked him for his doubt. When he climbed into the boat, the wind died down and "those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"

In chapter fifteen, the Pharisees criticized the disciples for not ritually washing their hands before they ate, but Jesus called them hypocrites, and told them all that "what goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Later, he explained to the disciples that what goes in passes through, but what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. In the region of Tyre and Sidon, he resisted the plea of a Canaanite woman to heal her daughter, saying that "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," but her faith convinced him to grant her request. After another session of teaching and preaching on a mountainside by the sea of Galilee, he fed four thousand with seven loaved "and a few small fish."

In chapter sixteen, the "Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven," and again he told them that "none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." He told his disciples to beware the "yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." They thought that it was because they had no bread, but he rebuked them for their lack of understanding, and then they saw that he was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. At Caesarea Philippi, he asked them who he was, and after being told that "some say," he asked what they thought. Peter said, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God," And Jesus blessed him, called him Peter, and told them that "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Then he began to explain to them that "he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." When Peter protested, Jesus rebuked him for temptation, and told all of them that "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" and "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Everyone knows how hard it is to proof-read your own material. After you've written it and read it a couple of times, you cease to see what's actually on the page, and just see what you believe is on the page. In the same way, I've found it interestingly difficult to actually focus on three chapters of this gospel during a reading. As I've said, there is an awful lot of the bible which, though I've read, I don't know. But a) I've read the gospels several times and b) there is so much similarity between the synoptic gospels that reading them each twice is like reading one of them six times. Consequently, I frequently read a header, or the start of a sentence, and find myself sort of pretending to read the words but not really focusing on them.
  • I don't understand why he was resistant to helping the Canaanite woman. The notion that he came to earth "only to the lost sheep of Israel" conflicts with, well, pretty much everything else in the Gospels.
  • I commented, frequently, about the emphasis on the "lips" and the "tongue" in the book of Proverbs. It's exactly what Jesus tells his disciples and the Pharisees - it's what comes out, that which comes from the heart, that defiles a man.
  • When Peter tells him that he won't be put to death, Jesus responds exactly the same way he responded to the temptation in the desert - "get thee behind me, Satan." Peter is offering a temptation, a deceit that the easy path is possible, and Jesus knows that this is not true.

Psalms 53

I do not quite know what to do with this one. It reads as if it is trying to convey thoughts or ideas that aren't translating well. The start is fairly straightforward, but we immediately go from "the fool" to "they are corrupt and their ways are vile." Is "they" the plural of fool? Is it all men? The next verse does indeed refer to "the sons of men," but is that the same they as the first verse?

In some ways, it reads as a lament, as "everyone has turned away...become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one."

Psalm 53
For the director of music. According to mahalath. A maskil of David.
1 The fool says in his heart,
"There is no God."
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.

2 God looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.

3 Everyone has turned away,
they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.

4 Will the evildoers never learn—
those who devour my people as men eat bread
and who do not call on God?

5 There they were, overwhelmed with dread,
where there was nothing to dread.
God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
you put them to shame, for God despised them.

6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Matthew 5-7

In chapter eleven, "after Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples," he went to preach and teach in the towns of Galilee and John sent his disciples to ask whether he was "the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" He told them to report to John what they "hear and see: he blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Later, he "began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent," telling that that "it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." And he told all that "are weary and burdened" to come to him and "find rest for your souls."

In chapter twelve, when they saw him and his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees challenged them with violating the law. Jesus compared it to what David had done "when he and his companions were hungry" and told them that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" and continued to confound them by healing a man with a shriveled hand. He drove a demon out of a man, and when people said that he drove out demons through the power of the devil, he proclaimed that "every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined...If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself." And he told them that good fruit came from good trees and bad fruit from bad trees. When asked for a miraculous sign by some of the teachers of the law and Pharisees, he told them that "none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." And he told his followers that "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Chapter thirteen begins with the parable of the sower, after which the disciples asked him why he spoke in parables. He quoted Isaiah, telling them that "this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." He then explained the parable of the sower, then told them another parable, the parable of the weeds, then the parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast. He came to his hometown and taught in the synagogue and "they were amazed," asking, "isn't this the carpenter's son?" But he did not do many miracles there "because of their lack of faith."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • As many times as I've read this, I don't remember as many healings as I notice this time. I don't know whether they've all kind of "run together" in the past or what.
  • One of the very explicit acknowledgements in the Gospels of Jesus' true identity and mission is here in this passage, when he talks about the "sign of the prophet Jonah - the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
  • One of the intellectually dishonest aspects of the Jesus Seminar people, and any of the "quests for the historical Jesus" is when they throw out statements like this as late additions. They do so on the grounds that it was added by believers to strengthen the case, but once they throw it out, they use it's absence to argue that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God. That is, they don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God, they claim that every statement he made which makes the claim is spurious, and then they turn around and use the "fact" that the statements are spurious to argue for their original position.

Psalms 50

I've read this before, but didn't remember it. I don't remember any of the psalms being like this, which is essentially a curse, a condemnation - "Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth." The note says "for the director of music," but it would seem to me that that has to mean something other than the obvious. I can believe this aimed at Saul or David, but it seems a lot of vitriol to be aimed at a (presumably essentially powerless) functionary. The target is called "you mighty man" and is said to "boast of evil...boast all day long." No, that's got to be David or Saul.

Psalm 52
For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: "David has gone to the house of Ahimelech."
1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man?
Why do you boast all day long,
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

2 Your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor,
you who practice deceit.

3 You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

4 You love every harmful word,
O you deceitful tongue!

5 Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
He will snatch you up and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living.

6 The righteous will see and fear;
they will laugh at him, saying,

7 "Here now is the man
who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
and grew strong by destroying others!"

8 But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God's unfailing love
for ever and ever.

9 I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your saints.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Matthew 8-10

In chapter eight, Jesus came down from the mountainside with large crowds around him. He healed a man with leprosy, and the servant of a Centurion in Capernaum, without even entering the house, because the Centurion had "such great faith." In Peter's house, he healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever, and then they brought him many who were demon-possessed and "he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick." Crossing the sea in a storm, he awoke and calmed the storm, while rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith, and then, "in the region of the Gadarenes," he drove demons out of two men and into a herd of pigs, which rushed down into the lack and died. "Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region."

In chapter nine, Jesus crossed the sea again "to his own town" and told a paralytic that his sins were forgiven. This enraged the "teachers of the law" who said that he was blaspheming, but Jesus rebuked them and told the man to "get up, take your mat and go home," which he did. Later, he called Matthew from the tax collector's booth, and he followed him. When people complained, that night, that he was eating with sinners, he said that he had "not come to call the righteous, but sinners." He compared his disciples to "guests of the bridegroom" when asked why they didn't fast, and later healed a sick woman and raised a dead girl, before healing two blind men and a mute. He "went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness" and told his disciples that "the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."

In chapter ten, therefore, he called his twelve disciples, giving them "authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness," and sent them out to "the lost sheep of Israel" to preach that "the kingdom of heaven is near." If any town or home into which they went was to prove undeserving, they were to "shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town" and it would "be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town." He told them that "the Spirit of your Father" would speak through them if they were brought before "governors or kings." He tells them that there will be conflicts, and that "all men will hate you because of me" because he "did not come to bring peace, but a sword." ""He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • In chapter eight, Jesus drove the demons out of two possessed men, and the result was that the townspeople "pleaded with him to leave their region." But why? Do they not realize what he did? Is the pressure of being in his presence too much for them to bear? Do they fear that his presence creates a "war zone?" I don't know. I think it likely that they were more frightened by a man that could drive out spirits, cause the pigs to stampede into the lake, than they were grateful to have their neighbors cleansed.
  • That ("they pleaded with him to leave") is the kind of detail that reeks of historicity. There's no obvious reason for someone to invent and insert it later.
  • By the way, who are the "Gadarenes?" They can't be Israelites, or they wouldn't have a herd of pigs, right? Is there a Jew/Gentile issue here?
  • Is this Matthew the author/compiler of the Gospel? Tradition has associated this book with that disciple, though we can't know for sure.

Psalms 51

This is one of the few psalms which we can tie to a specific event. Specifically, this represents David's repentance, upon being challenged by the prophey Nathan, of his sin in committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. It is a cry of remorse and repentance, acknowledging the depth of his depravity and unworthiness of God's mercy. For those of us who have trouble with the description of David as "a man after God's own heart" in light of this story, this psalm represents the longing of a penitent spirit.

This is a psalm which I pray regularly, as our monthly communion at Park Street is preceded by a recitation.

Psalm 51
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Matthew 5-7

In chapters five through seven, Matthew records Jesus teachings to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount. He starts with the beatitudes, compares Christians to salt and light, and tells them that he has come to fulfill the law, not abolish it. He tells them that the law forbids murder and adultery and divorce, but that it needs to actually go further than the acts to the feelings and motivations. He tells them to love their enemies and return good for evil. Chapter six starts with comments about prayer and fasting, a form to follow (The Lord's Prayer), and the proper attitude to take. They should, he tells them, be "stor[ing] up for yourselves treasures in heaven" and not fretting about the day to day needs of life, for "your heavenly Father knows that you need not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." In chapter seven he tells them that they will be judged in the same way they judge others, not focus on others' faults but their own, and to be certain to ask for what they need, for "your Father in heaven [will] give good gifts to those who ask him!" He warns them about false prophets, tells them that not everyone who claims him as Lord will enter the kingdom, and finishes with the parable of the builders who built houses on stone and sand. And "the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • This is the longest extended passage of Jesus teaching in the bible. If you've got a "red-letter" version, virtually this who section is red, between an opening phrase at the beginning of chapter five and a closing phrase at the end of chapter seven.
  • It is also the extended passage with which I have the greatest familiarity. Obviously, this is Jesus' teaching, and if the Son of God came to redeeem us, well, we're pretty well obliged to listen to what he has to say to us while he's here. I've read this more than any other section (other than the 23rd Psalm or an occasional verse here and there) of scripture.
  • I've also got very little to say about this, simply because there is so much to say. I cannot give you, as I've tried to do, my "layman's first impression" kind of reaction to it, because I can't find that anymore. I know this too well, and I've seen and heard and read too many analyses of it. I've listened, many times, to an eight-sermon series that David Fisher gave on the Beatitudes, and a six-series sermon he gave on being salt and light. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which I've read, consists of 60 sermons, addressing every section of this teaching. My positions and opinions on this section, such as they are, have been deeply influenced in ways that are not true of my positions and opinions on other sections.
  • How many sermons have been given, for example, on Matthew 5:3 - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? Many, and that's just the first beatitude.
  • Dr. Lloyd-Jones position on the beatitudes influenced Dr. Fisher's. They both look at those descriptions and say, "the is Jesus describing his followers. These are the characteristics that mark a true Christian." But what does it mean to be "poor in spirit?" How does one "hunger and thirst after righteousness?" I know what the word "meek" means, but what does it mean in this context? There have been untold countless hours spent on these questions over the past 2,000 years, and there's no reason to suppose that there won't be far more spent on them in the future.

Psalms 50

In this psalm, the psalmist speaks mostly in the voice of God. Like the prophets, he conveys a message from the Lord. There's a brief introductory statement of praise, and then "our God comes and will not be silent." The psalmist then has God telling the people of Israel that they should "sacrifice thank offerings" but also that he has "no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens." In the last few verses, he speaks directly to "the wicked," condemning their sin and telling them that "you hate my instruction and cast my words behind you."

Psalm 50
A psalm of Asaph.
1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

4 He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:

5 "Gather to me my consecrated ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice."

6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.

7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, and I will testify against you:
I am God, your God.

8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,

10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.

12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,

15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

16 But to the wicked, God says:
"What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?

17 You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.

18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.

19 You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You speak continually against your brother
and slander your own mother's son.

21 These things you have done and I kept silent;
you thought I was altogether like you.
But I will rebuke you
and accuse you to your face.

22 "Consider this, you who forget God,
or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God."

Monday, May 3, 2010


Matthew 1-4

The Gospel of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham to David (14 generations), from David to the exile (14 generations) and from the exile to Jesus (14 generations). Matthew's genealogy traces Jesus descent through Joseph, who, though his father in the sense that he was married to his mother and raised him, was not his father through siring him. Matthew then tells how Mary "was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit" and an angel told Joseph not to divorce her. He did what the angel said, and "had no union with her until she gave birth to a son" whom they named Jesus.

Chapter two starts with the visit of the Magi, who came to where he was born in Bethlehem and gave him "gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." King Herod heard of the birth of the "king of the Jews" when the Magi came asking for him, and was upset, asking the priests "where the Christ was to be born" and being answered with the words of the prophet Micah. He sent the Magi to Bethlehem to search for the child, and they, after worshipping the child, and having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, "returned to their country by another route." After they had left, Joseph was told by an angel to go to Egypt "for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." Herod ordered that all boys in Bethlehem under two years of age would be killed. When Herod later died, Joseph and his family returned from Egypts and settled in Nazareth.

In chapter three, we hear the story of John the Baptist, who preached in the Desert of Judea, calling on men to "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." He baptized in the Jordan, but when Jesus came to be baptized, John "tried to deter him." He said to Jesus, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now," and John baptized him. "At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'"

In chapter four, Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert where he fasted for forty days and nights and was "tempted by the devil." First, the devil challenged him to turn the stones to bread, then to throw himself off the highest point of the temple, and finally, to bow down and worship him, all of which temptations Jesus refused. Then he began his ministry in Capernaum, preaching the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. Beside the Sea of Galilee, he called Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, then James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He went through Galilee preaching the good news and healing, and gathered a large following.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Matthew is the first gospel, the first book, in the New Testament, but it is not believed to be the oldest. Conventional wisdom is that Mark's gospel is the earliest of the gospels, and that both Matthew and Luke had access to it when compiling theirs.
  • There is tremendous similarity between the first three (commonly called the "synoptic") gospels, such that a cursory analysis might lead one to wonder why all three are in the canon. It's clear, though, that each has a different audience. Mark's gospel is plain statement of fact, unadorned, and early. It is aimed at an audience of believers, recording the story for them and for posterity. The other two synoptics are both history and evangelistic. Luke's gospel is intended for gentiles. And Matthew's is aimed at a Jewish audience. He is constantly quoting the Old Testament scriptures, everywhere pointing out how Jesus fulfills the messianic prophecies.
  • The nativity is better known from Luke's version, as Matthew does not record the census or the full inn and the stable. Nor does it mention the shepherds. But both Matthew and Luke mention the star, the Magi and the virgin birth.
  • The order in which the temptations in the desert are recorded differs between Matthew's and Luke's accounts.

Psalms 49

A psalm of ... what, exactly? It isn't a praise psalm. It's not really a lamentation. There's not a strong plea, or deep despair. It contains a realistic viewpoint on the temporal quality of earthly riches ("Do not be overawed when a man grows rich...for he will take nothing with him when he dies"), though there's a touch of Ecclesiastes, as well ("all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish...their tombs will remain their houses forever...").

And I still don't know to whom "the Sons of Korah" refers.

Psalm 49
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
listen, all who live in this world,

2 both low and high,
rich and poor alike:

3 My mouth will speak words of wisdom;
the utterance from my heart will give understanding.

4 I will turn my ear to a proverb;
with the harp I will expound my riddle:

5 Why should I fear when evil days come,
when wicked deceivers surround me-

6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of their great riches?

7 No man can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for him-

8 the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough-

9 that he should live on forever
and not see decay.

10 For all can see that wise men die;
the foolish and the senseless alike perish
and leave their wealth to others.

11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever,
their dwellings for endless generations,
though they had named lands after themselves.

12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure;
he is like the beasts that perish.

13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves,
and of their followers, who approve their sayings.

14 Like sheep they are destined for the grave,
and death will feed on them.
The upright will rule over them in the morning;
their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.

15 But God will redeem my life from the grave;
he will surely take me to himself.

16 Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;

17 for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.

18 Though while he lived he counted himself blessed—
and men praise you when you prosper-

19 he will join the generation of his fathers,
who will never see the light of life .

20 A man who has riches without understanding
is like the beasts that perish.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Ruth 1-4

The first chapter of the book of Ruth tells of how, "in the days when the judges rules," there was a famine in the land and a man from Bethlehem in Judah named Elimelech went "to live for a while" in the country of Moab with his wife Naomi and his sons Mahlon and Kilion. Elimelech died there, and the sons took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. After ten years, Naomi's sons died also, without fathering children. When Naomi heard that "the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them" she set out to go back to the land of Judah. She told her daughters-in-law that they should go back to their mother's houses but they said they would go with her. She told them again, and Orpah kissed her good-bye and left, but "Ruth clung to her" and told her that "your people will be my people and your God my God." So they returned to Bethlehem, and Naomi told them to call her Mara, "because the Almighty has made my life very bitter."

In chapter two, Ruth told Naomi to let her go pick up leftover grain in the fields behind anyone "in whose eyes I find favor." She ended up working behind Boaz, a relative of Elimelech's. When he found out who she was, he told her to stay with his servant girls in his field, and told the men not to touch her. When she asked why he would show her such kindness, he answered that it was because of all that she had done for Naomi. That night she told Naomi that she had been working for Boaz, and Naomi told her that "that man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers." So Ruth continued working with his servant girls.

In chapter three, Naomi told Ruth that she should "try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for." She tells her to dress in her best clothes, to wash and perfume herself, and to go that night and lie at Boaz' feet on the threshing floor. She did so, and when he awoke in the night, she was lying at his feet. He blessed her, saying that "this kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor." He tells her that there is a kinsman-redeemer "nearer than I" and that "if he is not willing [to redeem], I will do it." He sent her out in the morning while it was still dark, and gave her six measures of barley to take back to Naomi.

In chapter four, Boaz speaks with the kinsman-redeemer, telling him that he has the right to buy Elimelech's property, but that if he does, Ruth comes with it, and he replied that "I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself." So Boaz announced to the elders and all the people that they were witnesses to his purchase, from Naomi, of all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon, and also that he was taking Ruth as his wife "in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records." And Ruth bore Boaz a son, Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered David.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Ruth is set during the time of the Judges, but there's some internal evidence that's dispositive in determining that it was not a contemporaneous report. For one thing, there's the story of the handing off of the sandal in chapter four which acknowedges a bygone tradition. For another, there's the genealogy at the end, leading to David.
  • As to why the book is there, it seems clear that the genealogy is the reason.
  • I've seen speculation that this was originally part of Judges, originally part of 1 Samuel, and a very late fiction. I've no way of knowing if any of those are true or not.
  • There are obvious echoes of the story of Isaac and Rebekah here. And both Rebekah and Ruth, outsiders who "married in," are in the human genealogy of Jesus.

Psalms 48

A psalm of praise. "Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise...Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness..."

I do not know which "Sons of Korah" this Psalm would be referencing in its dedication. Korah was a descendant of Levi and fore-father of Moses and Aaron. Korah was also one who rebelled against the Lord and was swallowed up by the earth in Numbers.

Psalm 48
A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah.
1 Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise,
in the city of our God, his holy mountain.

2 It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.

3 God is in her citadels;
he has shown himself to be her fortress.

4 When the kings joined forces,
when they advanced together,

5 they saw her and were astounded;
they fled in terror.

6 Trembling seized them there,
pain like that of a woman in labor.

7 You destroyed them like ships of Tarshish
shattered by an east wind.

8 As we have heard,
so have we seen
in the city of the LORD Almighty,
in the city of our God:
God makes her secure forever.

9 Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.

10 Like your name, O God,
your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
your right hand is filled with righteousness.

11 Mount Zion rejoices,
the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments.

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,

13 consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.

14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Romans 14-16

In chapter fourteen, Paul preaches to the Romans about being accomodating to one another's differences "without passing judgment on disputable matters," instead being careful "not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." He tells them that he is convinced that "no food is unclean in itself but if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean." They should not be overly concerned with others' dietary habits because "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit...anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men." This continues in chapter fifteen with his exhortation that those "who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves." He prays that God will give them "a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus," and tells them that "Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God his mercy." He tells thems that he is convinced that they are "full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." He acknowledges that he has "written boldly on some points" and he did so "because of the grace that God gave [him] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles."

He finishes chapter fifteen by sharing his plan to go to Spain and his hope and intention of visiting them while passing through. At the time, however, he was on his way to Jerusalem "in the service of the Saints there." He urges them to pray for him. In chapter sixteen, he closes with specific greetings to individuals, such as "our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea." He warns them "to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned." He shares with them the greetings of Timothy and three of his (Paul's) relatives, and we learn that Tertius was the scribe who wrote down the letter. He ends with a benediction.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • A wonderful sermon throughout, in this letter Paul lays out the fundamental beliefs of the church. Jesus died on the cross in atonement for our sins, and through his sacrifice, we are all saved for life with God. There's no question why this is such a treasured letter, and why it has pride of place as the first canonical epistle.
  • One of the things that I love about this epistle is the closing passage with the individual greetings and the scribal acknowledgement. It bears all of the unmistakeable accents of historical accuracy. And we know that Paul got to Rome in the early 60s AD, within 30-35 years after the crucifixion. This all makes for a compelling counter-argument against the position that the doctrines of Christ as the son of God, salvation through the taking on of sins for mankind and salvation by faith are late additions and corruptions.

Proverbs 31

The last chapter of the book of Proverbs begins with these "sayings of King Lemuel," and ends with an "Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character." The eight verses attributed to Lemuel are fairly standard proverbial material - "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" - albeit too short to really make much of. They are clearly presented as things that "his mother taught him."

The Epilogue is as set of sayings on the activities and virtues which mark a wife as being of noble character, and the benefits that accrue to her and her family as a result of those activities and virtues. And, as the book started with the fear of the Lord associated with wisdom, so it ends, as the penultimate verse reads "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."

Proverbs 31
Sayings of King Lemuel
1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle his mother taught him:

2 "O my son, O son of my womb,
O son of my vows,

3 do not spend your strength on women,
your vigor on those who ruin kings.

4 "It is not for kings, O Lemuel—
not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,

5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.

6 Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;

7 let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

8 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.

9 Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."

Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

11 Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

26 She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

27 She watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

29 "Many women do noble things,
but you surpass them all."

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Romans 12-13

In chapter twelve, Paul urges the Romans to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." They are not to "conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Then he instructs them, through the rest of the chapter, of what that means, and exhorts them to live that way. He urges them to be modest and sober of judgement, analogizing that each of them is like a part of a body, serving a function that the body needs, and together "in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Each man's gift should be used in God's service appropriately. They should "hate what is evil; cling to what is good...bless those who persecute not repay anyone evil for evil." In this way, they will "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

In chapter thirteen, he tells them that they should submit to the governing authorities, because "the authorities that exist have been established by God." He tells them to pay taxes if they owe them; "if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." They want to have no outstanding debts, except the ever-present debt to love one another. All of the commandments are "summed up" in that rule - "love your neighbor as yourself." And he tells them that the hour of their salvation "is nearer now than when we first believed" so they need to "wake up from your slumber" and "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Chapter twelve is a clear behavioral sermon. Do this, not that, think this, not that. It's like some passages of Proverbs, but he doesn't use metaphor.
  • I know that one isn't to pick and choose. But I think that Paul was just wrong about earthly governing authorities. There are a great many of them that have been, and should have been, resisted, not submitted to.

Proverbs 30

These verses are attributed to "Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle." And it does not read like much of the rest of the book. This is a prophetic section, not, as is the case of most of the books, verses of unconnected words of wisdom. Some of this is very interesting, as he keeps putting out lists of "three things...four things."

Proverbs 30
Sayings of Agur
1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle:
This man declared to Ithiel,
to Ithiel and to Ucal:

2 "I am the most ignorant of men;
I do not have a man's understanding.

3 I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.

4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands?
Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and the name of his son?
Tell me if you know!

5 "Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

6 Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

7 "Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

10 "Do not slander a servant to his master,
or he will curse you, and you will pay for it.

11 "There are those who curse their fathers
and do not bless their mothers;

12 those who are pure in their own eyes
and yet are not cleansed of their filth;

13 those whose eyes are ever so haughty,
whose glances are so disdainful;

14 those whose teeth are swords
and whose jaws are set with knives
to devour the poor from the earth,
the needy from among mankind.

15 "The leech has two daughters.
'Give! Give!' they cry.
"There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, 'Enough!':

16 the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, 'Enough!'

17 "The eye that mocks a father,
that scorns obedience to a mother,
will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley,
will be eaten by the vultures.

18 "There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:

19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.

20 "This is the way of an adulteress:
She eats and wipes her mouth
and says, 'I've done nothing wrong.'

21 "Under three things the earth trembles,
under four it cannot bear up:

22 a servant who becomes king,
a fool who is full of food,

23 an unloved woman who is married,
and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.

24 "Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:

25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;

26 coneys are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;

27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;

28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings' palaces.

29 "There are three things that are stately in their stride,
four that move with stately bearing:

30 a lion, mighty among beasts,
who retreats before nothing;

31 a strutting rooster, a he-goat,
and a king with his army around him.

32 "If you have played the fool and exalted yourself,
or if you have planned evil,
clap your hand over your mouth!

33 For as churning the milk produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Romans 4-5

In chapter nine, Paul tells them that he has "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart" for the Jews that are "cut off" from Christ. They were adopted by God, they received the law and the covenants and theirs is the "human ancestry of Christ." But God's word hasn't failed, because "not all who descended from Israel are Israel," nor are they all Abraham's children, but the children of the promise are Abraham's children, those through the line of Isaac, and then through Jacob. But none of this makes God unjust, he tells them - it does not depend on man's desire or effort but on God's mercy. He suggests that God, as the creator, has the right to use the creation as he chooses, and that maybe some of those destroyed were specifically "prepared for destruction" to "make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory."

In chapter ten, he tells them that "my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved," but that they must have faith, because "the righteousness that is by the law" cannot save them. Then in chapter eleven, he makes it clear that God did not reject "his people." After all, he tells them, "I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin." The Israelites are not fallen "beyond recovery" but "because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious." He tells that though his ministry has been to the Gentiles, "I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." He compares the Romans to a wild olive branch which has been grafted onto the root of a tree. But he tells them no to be arrogant, but afraid, "for if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either." He quotes Isaiah and expresses a believe that "God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." He closes the chapter with a prayer to God's glory.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • This is tough to summarize. It's fairly dense theology, with some repetitiveness, but repetitiveness with subtle differences.
  • As I noted the other day, it's easy to see why this is the first epistle in the book. This is very rich, and, for the most part, not limited to any specific problems, but filled with theology, theodicy and praise that is applicable or relevant to all believers.

Proverbs 29:15-27

More on the power of the tongue - "Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him."

"The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; he is put under oath and dare not testify." - A more modern take - "three can keep a secret if two of them are dead."

Proverbs 29:15-27 (New International Version)

15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom,
but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

16 When the wicked thrive, so does sin,
but the righteous will see their downfall.

17 Discipline your son, and he will give you peace;
he will bring delight to your soul.

18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
but blessed is he who keeps the law.

19 A servant cannot be corrected by mere words;
though he understands, he will not respond.

20 Do you see a man who speaks in haste?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

21 If a man pampers his servant from youth,
he will bring grief [a] in the end.

22 An angry man stirs up dissension,
and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

23 A man's pride brings him low,
but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

24 The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy;
he is put under oath and dare not testify.

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

26 Many seek an audience with a ruler,
but it is from the LORD that man gets justice.

27 The righteous detest the dishonest;
the wicked detest the upright.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Romans 6-8

Having just told them that "as sin increased, grace increased all the more," Paul starts Romans 6 by asking "shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase," and quickly answers, "by no means!" Instead, he tells them, they have "died to sin" and "just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." He therefore encourages them to "count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus" and not to "let sin reign in your mortal body." He tells them that they are "not under law, but under grace." That is "by no means" reason to sin, though. They are now "slaves to righteousness" rather than sin. And the benefit leads to holiness "and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In chapter seven, he analogizes their situation to that of a woman whose husband died. While he lived, she could not marry another man by law, but when he has died, she is no longer under that law. Likewise, the Christians have died to the law "through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another." They have been released from the law, from the "old way of the written code" to serve "in the new way of the Spirit." He tells them that the law is not sin, but it reveals sin, and sin "deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death." But the law is spiritual, and Paul tells them that he is unspiritual, "sold as a slave to sin... if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." He considers himself a "slave to God's law" in his mind, but "in the sinful natiure a slave to the law of sin."

In chapter eight, he tells them that "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." The law was powerless to set men free, but God did it by sending "his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering." He says that those who live according to sinful nature have their minds set on sin, but those who "live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." They have an obligation, he tells them, to live according to the Spirit, which "testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." He tells them that their present sufferings aren't worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in them and says that all of creation "has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." He says that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." And he introduces the concept of predestination, saying that "those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • This passage contains, if I'm not mistaken, the first words on predestination in the New Testament. As always, the term raises questions. How does predestination exist with free will? If faith saves, can it save someone who hasn't been predetermined to be saved? If one is not predestined but then has faith, is the faith in vain? I'm not going to pretend that there are easy questions to any of these, despite the fact that people have been asking them, well, since Paul wrote this, at least. I am not a predestinationist, myself.
  • One can make a case that, if increasing sin increases grace even more, then sinning is a good thing. Paul is quick to knock that one down.

Proverbs 29:1-14

By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down....If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure
Those verses reference "kings," but it really works for anyone in a position of power. Success is much more likely when one is just and fair with subordinates.

Proverbs 29

1 A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes
will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice;
when the wicked rule, the people groan.

3 A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,
but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.

4 By justice a king gives a country stability,
but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.

5 Whoever flatters his neighbor
is spreading a net for his feet.

6 An evil man is snared by his own sin,
but a righteous one can sing and be glad.

7 The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern.

8 Mockers stir up a city,
but wise men turn away anger.

9 If a wise man goes to court with a fool,
the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.

10 Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity
and seek to kill the upright.

11 A fool gives full vent to his anger,
but a wise man keeps himself under control.

12 If a ruler listens to lies,
all his officials become wicked.

13 The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:
The LORD gives sight to the eyes of both.

14 If a king judges the poor with fairness,
his throne will always be secure.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Romans 4-5

In chapter four, Paul continues his discussion of the importance of faith by citing Abraham, who "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." He contrasts justification to wages, which are "not credited to [a man] as a gift, but as an obligation." Likewise, he says, "to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." He cites the psalms, where we are told that "blessed is the man whose sins the Lord will never count against him." And then he asks whether this blessing is only for the circumcised. No, he says, for Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness "not after [circumcision], but before!" In this way, Abraham is the father, not only of the circumcised (the Jews) but the uncircumcised, those who believed without circumcision. After all, "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith." So the promise of the Gospel comes by faith, not by the law, not by works. "Jesus our Lord ... was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."

Chapter five continues, "since we have been justified through faith, we[e]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We rejoice in our hope of the glory of God, but also in our sufferings "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope." He comments on the power of Jesus' action, noting that one might occasionally see someone die for a good man, but "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." So "we have now been justified by his blood" and "reconciled to [God] through the death of his Son." So just as sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and death came with it, so in Christ all men are saved, "so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Want to know what Paul believed the Gospel said? You really don't have to go looking any further for it than this. This is very likely not the earliest epistle composed, but it's easy to understand why it gets pride of place as the first one in the canon. Paul, who was spoken to directly by Jesus, who evangelized the Gentiles, tells us that Jesus died for our sins and we are justified not by any actions we can take, but by the action he has already taken, and our faith in him. There's no sugar-coating here, no wishy-washiness or "mights" or "maybes." This is it, the Gospel, fully formed within a generation of the crucifixion.

Proverbs 28:15-28

There is a theme running through this set of proverbs. "He who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long who chases fantasies will have his fill of eager to get rich will not go unpunished...stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him...greedy man stirs up dissension...who gives to the poor will lack nothing..." Note that the condemnation here is not to one who succeeds and accumulates wealth, for "he who works his land will have abundant food," but to those who are "greedy" or "stingy." Those who are "eager to get rich." These people are focused on the wrong thing. It's a focus on material wealth over the love of God.

Proverbs 28:15-28 (New International Version)

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people.

16 A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment,
but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life.

17 A man tormented by the guilt of murder
will be a fugitive till death;
let no one support him.

18 He whose walk is blameless is kept safe,
but he whose ways are perverse will suddenly fall.

19 He who works his land will have abundant food,
but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.

20 A faithful man will be richly blessed,
but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

21 To show partiality is not good—
yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread.

22 A stingy man is eager to get rich
and is unaware that poverty awaits him.

23 He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor
than he who has a flattering tongue.

24 He who robs his father or mother
and says, "It's not wrong"—
he is partner to him who destroys.

25 A greedy man stirs up dissension,
but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.

26 He who trusts in himself is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

27 He who gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding;
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Romans 1-3

Paul begins his epistle to the Romans with prayers and greetings, and expressed a desire to visit the church in Rome. He praises them for their "faith is being reported all over the world" and tells them that they are in his prayers "at all times" and he prays that "at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you." He wants to see them to "impart to you some spiritual gift" and they and he "may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." And he tells them that he is eager to preach the gospel in Rome, and that he is "not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." Then he spends the rest of the first chapter talking about God's wrath, about those who "neither glorified him...nor gave thanks to him" and how they were fools that God allowed to follow their own folly unto destruction.

Chapter two continues on the same theme, and tells them that anyone passing judgment on another condemns himself "because you who pass judgment do the same things." Stubborness and unrepentence "are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath." And he begins talking of the law, telling them that "all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law." Hearing the law doesn't make one righteous in God's sight, but obeying it. And those who do what the law says, even Gentiles who don't have the law, "show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts" and will be judged accordingly "on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ." The law only has value, he tells them, only for those that obey it, but those who have the law and break it are condemned as if they never had it. "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit."

In chapter three, he asserts that there is, nevertheless, advantage in being a Jew, because "they have been entrusted with the very words of God." God righteousness is even clearer in the reflection of our unrighteousness, but that doesn't excuse us for it - we should never say "let us do evil that good may result." But Jew and Gentile alike are under sin, and "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law" but the law makes us aware of our sin. And he finishes the chapter with the argument that righteousness "comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe...we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." And God is the God of the gentiles also, "since there is only one God."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the things that Paul does in the opening chapter is make the general revelation argument. "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
  • As I noted during the discussion of Galatians, Paul is the "faith" writer of the New Testament. It all comes down to faith with him, faith rather than works, faith rather than law.

Proverbs 28:1-14

The book of proverbs tells us, very early, that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." It's a theme that runs all the way through it, as we see here in chapter 28: "Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble."

Proverbs 28

1 The wicked man flees though no one pursues,
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

2 When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers,
but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.

3 A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.

4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
but those who keep the law resist them.

5 Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.

6 Better a poor man whose walk is blameless
than a rich man whose ways are perverse.

7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son,
but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.

8 He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest
amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law,
even his prayers are detestable.

10 He who leads the upright along an evil path
will fall into his own trap,
but the blameless will receive a good inheritance.

11 A rich man may be wise in his own eyes,
but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.

12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation;
but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.

13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

14 Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD,
but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Judges 19-21

Judges 19 starts with a Levite taking a concubine from Bethlehem, "but she was unfaithful to him," left and went back to her father's house. After four months, he went to get her, and stayed for a few days at her father's behest. Leaving, and headed towards Jerusalem, he stopped for the night in Gibeah rather than a city of the Jebusites because he said that "we won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites." In Gibeah, an old man welcomed them in to his house, but that night, "some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house" and demanded that the traveler come out so they could "have sex with him." The man sent his concubine out instead "and they raped her and abused her throughout the night" and she was found dead at the door the next morning. He took her body, when he had reached his home, and cut it in to twelve parts "and sent them into all the areas of Israel."

In chapter 20, the Israelites all demanded to know what had happend, and when he told them, "all the people rose as one man," saying that they would "go [against Gibeah] as the lot directs...[to] give them what they deserve for all this vileness done in Israel." The other Israelites sent men amongst the Benjamites demanding that they "surrender those wicked men of Gibeah" but the Benjamites refused. So the Israelites went up to Bethel and asked who should go in first to fight the Benjamites, and God replied "Judah shall go first." When the battle began, the Benjamites killed many Israelites durig two days of battle, so that the Israelites went back to Bethel to ask the LORD whether they should battle them, and the LORD replied that "tomorrow I will give them into your hands." They set up an ambush, and while the Benjamites thought they were winning as before, "the LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel." And the Israelites put all of the towns of Benjamin "to the sword...all the towns they came across they set on fire."

In chapter 21, the Israelites wept at Bethel, for "why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?" They had taken an oath not to any of them give their daughters in marriage to a Benjamite, but decided that they wanted to "provide wives for those who are left." When they realized that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp, they sent twelve thousand warriors to kill all of the men and all of the women who were not virgins in Jabesh Gilead. They brought back four hundred young women to Shiloh in Canaan, then sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites. They returned, but there were not enough women for all of them. So they told the Benjamites that they could kidnap girls dancing in the vineyards at the annual festival of the LORD in Shiloh. They did that, then returned to their inheritance and rebuilt their towns. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The whole book is summarized in the last line - "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
  • The language issue is a serious problem here. What, for example, does the word which is translated "concubine" mean? Because the Levite is then referred to as her "husband."
  • I mentioned earlier that I got some time with Dr. Hugenberger last fall about this book. It's this utterly horrifying story of the Levite's concubine which sent me asking questions. What is it doing here? What is the point? His answer made sense, but I don't believe that I can do it justice. Part of it, though, is that he believes that the story was recorded during the time of David and Saul, and that part of the point (and also with Micah's idols) is to praise Judah while condemning Dan and Benjamin and Gibeah, where Saul was from.
  • There's clearly an echo of the angels' visit to Sodom when the Levite reaches Gibeah.
  • The book opens with the Israelites asking who was going to lead into battle and the LORD answering "Judah," so Judah leads Israel against the Canaanites in the conquest. The book ends with Israel asking who is going to go first against the Benjamites, one of their own tribes, and the LORD answering, "Judah." During the reign of the Judges (when "Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit") they moved from attacking the Canaanites and taking the land that God had promised them to attacking one of their own tribes.

Proverbs 27:15-27

Nothing really leaps out of this set of verses at me today.

Proverbs 27:15-27 (New International Version)

15 A quarrelsome wife is like
a constant dripping on a rainy day;

16 restraining her is like restraining the wind
or grasping oil with the hand.

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.

18 He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit,
and he who looks after his master will be honored.

19 As water reflects a face,
so a man's heart reflects the man.

20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied,
and neither are the eyes of man.

21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but man is tested by the praise he receives.

22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar,
grinding him like grain with a pestle,
you will not remove his folly from him.

23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
give careful attention to your herds;

24 for riches do not endure forever,
and a crown is not secure for all generations.

25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears
and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

26 the lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats with the price of a field.

27 You will have plenty of goats' milk
to feed you and your family
and to nourish your servant girls.