Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Deuteronomy 31-34

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses tells the Israelites that "I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you." He tells them that the LORD has told him that he will not cross the Jordan. He then tells that Joshua will lead them and that "your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Moses wrote down the law and gave it to the priests "and to all the elders of Israel," and told that every seven years during the feast of Tabernacles they should assemble all the people and "read this law before them in their hearing" because "their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." Moses and Joshua went into the tent of Meeting, and the LORD commissioned Joshua. Then the LORD told Moses that he was "going to rest with [his] fathers" and that the Israelites would "soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering." He taught Moses a song to write down and "teach...to the Israelites and have them sing it so that it may be a witness for me against them." Moses wrote "in a book the words of this law from beginning to end" and gave it to the Levites to carry inside the ark of the covenant.

And in chapter 32, Moses "recited the words of this song from beginning to end." The song praises the Lord, repeatedly calls him "the rock," and condemns the people who have "acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation." It is a song of both praise and judgement. Then, that same day, the LORD told Moses to go up to Mount Nebo in Moas and view Canaan, and then he would die and "be gathered to [his] people," just like Aaron died on Mount Hor, because they "broke faith" with God at the waters of Meribah Kadesh.

In chapter 33, Moses blesses the tribes of Israel, each tribe by name. Then, in chapter 34, Moses climbed Mount Nebo, "to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho," and the LORD "showed him the whole land" and told him it was "the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." And Moses died and was buring in the valley "opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is." he was one hundred and twenty years old "yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone." The Israelites grieved for thirty days. And after that, Joshua "was filled with the spirit of wisdom" and the Israelites "listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Moses's song would fit right in the book of Isaiah or Jeremiah, no questions asked. Parts of it would fit in Psalms, too. There is a common theme running through the Old Testament, and that is how badly the Israelites have strayed from God, no matter what he does for them.
  • I've heard it said that the chapters had to be written by someone else, because Moses died, but I don't see any need for change in authorship. The whole Pentateuch is written in third person, and if Moses wrote some of the law specifically himself with his own hand, it seems doubtful that he would have written it all. Surely, there were scribes accessible to him, and whoever put the words down in "the book," they were certainly about Moses and with his cooperation and approval, until the last chapter. But that doesn't mean that there was any scribal change or significant difference in the way the last chapter was recorded. After all, it just says, essentially, "Moses died, the Israelites grieved, Joshua took over."
  • Whatever else one wants to say about the relationship between God and the Israelites, one cannot say that they didn't get proper warning. Over and over and over again they were told what to do and what not to do. And over and over and over again they neglected the former and performed the latter.

Psalms 47

A psalm of praise. Unadulterated and exuberant, uninhibited praise of the Lord. The kind of praise we should be giving every day!

Psalm 47
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

2 How awesome is the LORD Most High,
the great King over all the earth!

3 He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.

4 He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.

5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.

6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

8 God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.

9 The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Deuteronomy 27-30

As Deuteronomy moves into chapter 27, there's a change in voice, as Moses is now joined by "the elders of Israel" in commanding the people. Together, they tell them to keep all of the commands that they are giving them, and they tell them that, when they cross the Jordan, they are to set up some large stones on Mount Ebal, plaster them and write the words of the law on them. They should also build an altar there and "offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God." Moses then told them that the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, and the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali were to stand on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses on the people. And there were a list of curses for the Levites to recite, after each of which "all the people shall say, 'Amen!'" This is followed, in chapter 28, with a list of more blessings which would accrue to them for obedience to God's law, and a list of more curses which would befall them for failure to obey God's law.

In chapter 29, the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites, "in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb." Moses reminds them of the things that they have seen, the way that the LORD brought them out of Egypt. He reminds them of their victory over Sihon and Og, and how they took their land and vave it to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. He tells them to "carefully follow the terms of the covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do." He makes it clear that the covenant is generational so that "I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God but also with those who are not here today." They must be careful not worship the pagan gods of other nations. A person who does "invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, 'I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.' This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. The LORD will never be willing to forgive him." Disaster will come if they do not obey and they will be made an example of "because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers." And, in chapter 30, he continues to bless them with properity if they obey the covenant, and to curse them if they turn away. "I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Not content commentary, but this is, I think, the longest single reading thus far. Four chapters, one of which covers 68 verses, this is a total of nearly 4000 words in the NIV.
  • The list of curses in chapter 28 is significantly longer than the list of blessings. Most of them ended up coming true.

Psalms 46

A praise psalm, with apocalyptic imagery to emphasize the faith that the psalmist has in the LORD. we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging...he LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Psalm 46
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields [b] with fire.

10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Deuteronomy 23-26

Deuteronomy 23 addresses people who are to be excluded from "the assembly of the LORD," including those who have been "emasculated" ("he that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off" [KJV]), those of illegitimate birth (and their descendants), and Ammonites and Moabites. Edomites ("he is your brother") and Egyptians ("you lived as an alien in his country") are not to be "abhorred."

The next few verses deal with the issue of "uncleanness" when "encamped against your enemies," as the laws and regulations on uncleanness all deal with the tabernacle, and when encamped, they are some distance from it. They must set up a place outside the camp to relieve themselves, and they must keep the camp holy so that the LORD "will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you." The reset of the chapter contains some miscellaneous laws, including injunctions not to hand slaves back to their masters, not to become shrine prostitutes and not to practice usury with your "brother Israelite."

In chapters 24 and 25, the set of short and miscellaneous regulations continue, including the means and mechanisms for divorce, requirements that a recently married man "be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married" for one year, not to take millstones as security for a debt, to follow the priestly laws in the case of leprous diseases. There are a couple of these regulations aimed at protecting the "poor and needy...the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this." Disputes must go to court and judges decide the case, flogging must not include more than forth lashes, a man who's brother dies must "take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law" and "the first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel." They must use honest weights and honest scales and "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

Deuteronomy 26 is another reminder passage. First, he reminds the Israelites that the firstfruits of the harvest must be given to the LORD. They must set apart a tenth of all their produce in the third year to give to the Levite and the unfortunate. And again, he tells them of their obligation to follw the LORD's commands, "carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Every verse in chapter 24 could be a sermon source. And probably has been at some point. There's a reason that the Talmud is much, much longer than the Torah. It's been said that God's law boils down to "love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary." This section is commentary. It contains specific rules and regulations for that society in that place at that time, based on the more timeless principles of the Ten Commandments.
  • I'm sorry, this one just made me laugh.
    If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity. (Dt 25:11-12)
    What the issue is here, I really have no idea. Is it purity/uncleanness? Womanly modesty? Is it considered grossly dangerous or unfair to attack a man that way? I don't know what to make of this one at all, but it made me laugh anyway. (Remember, this is Moses, not the LORD.)

Psalms 45

Another psalm with a tune specified.

This is interesting in that it is not really a prayer. There are a couple of verses praising God, but this is, well, a wedding song. I've never noticed it before, and it seems rather odd that it's in that book.

Psalm 45
For the director of music. To the tune of "Lilies." Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil. A wedding song.
1 My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.

2 You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.

3 Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one;
clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.

4 In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness;
let your right hand display awesome deeds.

5 Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king's enemies;
let the nations fall beneath your feet.

6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.

8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.

9 Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.

10 Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear:
Forget your people and your father's house.

11 The king is enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.

12 The Daughter of Tyre will come with a gift,
men of wealth will seek your favor.

13 All glorious is the princess within her chamber ;
her gown is interwoven with gold.

14 In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her
and are brought to you.

15 They are led in with joy and gladness;
they enter the palace of the king.

16 Your sons will take the place of your fathers;
you will make them princes throughout the land.

17 I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Deuteronomy 20-22

Deuteronomy 20 contains instructions from Moses to the Israelites on behavior when going to war. He urges them not to be afraid, even against "an army greater than yours" because God "will be with you." He outlines some of the things for the officers to say to get the right troops in the right attitude and then tells them that when they go to attack a city, they should first make an offer of peace. If the inhabitants accept, then they will be subject to the will of the Israelites. If they refuse, kill all the men and take the women and children, and goods, as plunder. This only applies to distant cities however, as the cities in the nations that God is giving the Israelites, those of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, are to be utterly destroyed - "do not leave alive anything that breathes."

Deuteronomy 21 and 22 have several different shorter sections of law. First, there are instructions for dealing with a slain man outside of a city "if it is not known who killed him." The elders of the town closest to the body must make a sacrifice and declare, "our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done" in atonement. Then, there are instructions related to capturing an enemy woman and marrying her after her period of mourning. The Israelite must "let her go wherever she wishes" is he doesn't want to keep her as a wife, because "since you have dishonored her." A man with two wives must honor his first-born son with the birthright (double portion) of the firstborn even if he prefers the other wife to the first-born's mother. A rebellious son, who will not obey his parents' discipline, can be taken to the elders and then stoned to death by the community, for "you must purge the evil from among you." And anyone put to death and hanged on a tree must not be left overnight, but buried the same day, "because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."

Chapter 22 starts with several verses of law which do not appear to have a signficant common theme, including laws forbidding cross-dressing, taking mother birds, planting two kinds of seed in your vineyard, wearing wool and linen woven together and yoking an ox and a donkey together. Positive laws include requirements to help "if you see your brother's donkey or his ox fallen on road," to build a parapet around the roof of a new house so that no one will fall from the roof, and to wear tassels on the corners of a cloak. The rest of the chapter gets back to marriage and sexual matters, including dealing with various forms of adultery. For all of the concern about double standards (which might include the section in this chapter on female virginity), "if a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die." There's another interesting regulation on rape, whereas an unmarried girl is raped in a town, they are both to be stoned, because she could have yelled, but if an unmarried girl is raped in the country, "only the man who has one this shall die," the girl "has committed no sin deserving death...though the betrothed girl screamed, there was no one to rescue her."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The instructions with regard to the Canaanite tribes are harsh and unambiguous. There is obviously a great concern about the example that those tribes will set, the influence they may have on the Israelites, if they are not destroyed.
  • The passage on unsolved murders is very interesting. Murders form, for many of us, a high percentage of our entertainment, because there's always (or almost always) a clear right or wrong resolution. So we're very interested in "whodunnit," in books and movies and television shows. There is no consideration in this section whatsoever for "whodunnit." The primary concern is that someone needs to take responsibility for making the appropriate sacrifices. I'm positive that there's a good theological statement to be made here, based on it, but I'm not sure what it is at the moment.
  • The crucifixion had special meaning for the Jews, because "anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." In this way, Jesus takes God's curse for all of us. Again, it's all preparation for the incarnation and resurrection.
  • I wonder at the term rape. It almost seems, at times, as if it is being used to describe consensual but non-married and thus illegitimate, activity.

Psalms 44

This is a fascinating psalm. For the first eight verses, the psalmist praises God, praises what "our fathers have told, what you did in their days." He makes it clear that he knows that "it was not by their sword that they won the land...it was your right hand, your arm and the light of your face." "In God we make our boast all day long."

But the rest of the psalm is a lamentation. "Now you have rejected and humbled us." He insists that "we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant...our feet had not strayed from your path...or spread out our hands to a foreign god."

we can understand the lament, as we've all felt it. Which of us has not cried into the darkness, "how long, O Lord, how long?" We want things done on our time. We want answers, we want them immediately, and we want the answers that we want. But sometimes, we don't get those, and the answers take forms that confuse us. The psalm ends with a plea, a plea that we've all made, "Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love." And we have faith that he will, as the psalmist still has faith, else would he not be making the plea. But the answers may not be answers we like, and they'll come in God's time, not ours.

Psalm 44
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A maskil.
1 We have heard with our ears, O God;
our fathers have told us
what you did in their days,
in days long ago.

2 With your hand you drove out the nations
and planted our fathers;
you crushed the peoples
and made our fathers flourish.

3 It was not by their sword that they won the land,
nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
and the light of your face, for you loved them.

4 You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.

5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.

6 I do not trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;

7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.

8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.

9 But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.

10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.

11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.

12 You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.

14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.

15 My disgrace is before me all day long,
and my face is covered with shame

16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

17 All this happened to us,
though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.

18 Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.

19 But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals
and covered us over with deep darkness.

20 If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

21 would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?

22 Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

23 Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.

26 Rise up and help us;
redeem us because of your unfailing love.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Deuteronomy 17-19

Deuteronomy 17 begins with a reminder that the offerings to the LORD must be without "any defect or flaw," and continues with instructions to stone to death "a man or woman living among you...found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD you God in violation of his covenant," specifically with regard to worshipping other Gods. The punishment is only to be imposed, however, on testimony of more than one witness - "no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness." Moses then discusses the judging of difficult cases, telling the people that if cases come to court which are "too difficult for you to judge," take them to the priests and they will give you the verdict.

He tells them that when they have taken possession of the promised land and say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," to be certain that the chosen king is the one that God chooses. He must be "from among your brothers." And then he says that the king must not "acquire great numbers of horses for himself...take many wives...[or] accumulate large amounts of silver and gold." The king must "write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law...He is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God."

In chapter 18, Moses reminds the Israelites that the Levites "are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel," and that they "shall live on the offerings made to the LORD by fire, for that is their inheritance." He emphasizes, again, that they are not to "imitate the detestable ways of the nations" whom they are driving out of the promised land. He tells them that though the Canaanite nations "listen to those who practice sorcery or divination" but that the Israelites are not to do so. But the Lord "will raise up for a prophet like me from among your own brothers" and they must listen to him. But a prophet who would speak in God's name without God's word "must be put to death." They would know the truth or falsehood because "if what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken."

Deuteronomy 19 talks about the sanctuary cities, the "cities of refuge," which were first described in Numbers 35. Three of them are on the east side of the Jordan and there are to be three more in the promised land. They exist to offer a place of refuge for one who accidentally, "without malice aforethought," kills his neigbor. If Israel obeys the Lord and prospers, such that their territory is enlarged, they are to add three more. "Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land." And he tells them again that "one witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed." And if someone perjures himself in order to injure another, the man guilty of perjury should be punished the same way that he tried to have the other man punished. They are told to "show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Over 200 years ago, our ancestors threw of the yoke of a king, and we feel that monarchy is a bad and outdated idea. The Israelites, however, lived in a time when that was considered to be an acceptable and desirable form of government. This will come up again, as the book of Judges continuously tells us that "everyone did what was right in his own eyes because there was no King." And Moses and the LORD knew that the Israelites would expect and want a king. So there were instructions left for him, and requirements for him.
  • I have always tended to think of the Old Testament prophets as ... well, I'm not sure how to say this. Outside of societal norms, I guess. Someone that the average person would look at and tend to ignore. Here, again, we see that the context for those prophets is something that we need to understand. It's actually an official title for the LORD's messengers, and the Israelites know that they'll be coming and that they need to be listened to.
  • I have always been a "well, the New Testament is where Christ is so that's the important part" Bible reader. But as I go through these Old Testament books in a more careful (and, hopefully, more thoughtful) way, it seems to me that everything here either points to Jesus or prepares the ground for his arrival. The whole of the law, it seems to me, creates a context in which Jesus can come to earth as a man and perform the act of redemption which enables us to know God, and we would be able to see and understand it. There had to be a sacrificial system for him to fit into. We had to have a context for understanding the "lamb of God." There had to be prophets for us to see that God could talk to man. The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites, but it is preparation for everyone for understanding the ministry and mission of Jesus.

Psalms 43

A psalm of supplication and praise. The psalmist is oppressed and prays God's help ("plead my cause against an ungodly nation; rescue me from deceitful and wicked men") and feels cut off ("Why have you rejected me?"). But still, he has faith in God's will, and that God will help and he will praise God ("Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.")

Psalm 43

1 Vindicate me, O God,
and plead my cause against an ungodly nation;
rescue me from deceitful and wicked men.

2 You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?

3 Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.

4 Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Deuteronomy 14-16

Chapter 14 of Deuteronomy includes a repeat of the dietary laws from Leviticus chapter 11, which explain that the Israelites "may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided in two and that chews the cud." It also tells them not to "cook a young goat in its mother's milk." Moses also tells them to "set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year" as a tithe for the LORD. He tells them, if the place set aside for the making of offerings is too far away, to convert the offerings to silver and carry that, then convert it again at the other end of the journey. And they are told to bring all of the tithe's and "store it in your towns" every three years, to provide for the Levites "(who have no allotment or inheritance of their own)" and also for the "aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns."

In chapter fifteen, there is a reminder of the obligation to "cancel debts" among fellow Israelites every seven years (Lv 25), as well as admonitions not to abuse that. They are told that a Hebrew who "sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free." And they are reminded to set apart for the LORD "every firstborn male of your herds and flocks."

Deuteronomy 16 reminds the Israelites of the instructions to celebrate the Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles, as they were told in Leviticus 23. They are also told to appoint judges "for each of your tribes in every town the LORD your God is giving you," and warned, again, not to worship other Gods.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • If I'm not mistaken, Deuteronomy 14:21, "do not cook a young goat in its mother's milk," is the source of the kosher requirements for two sets of dishes, one for meat and another for dairy.
  • Three of the Gospels tell the story of Jesus cleaning the money-changers and merchants out of the temple.

    "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.' " (Mt 21:13)

    And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: " 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' ? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.' " (Mk 11:17)

    "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer' ; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.' " (Lk 19:46)

    Many of us, first encountering Jesus' anger in the temple, assume that there's no reason for the "moneychangers" and "those selling doves" to be there in the first place, and therefore, Jesus' anger is prima facie justified. After reading Deuteronomy 14, however, the story makes more sense culturally, but the anger is harder to explain. There must be something behavioral going on beyond the mere fact of the existence and presence of money changers and dove sellers in the temple. That presence is, if not demanded, at least explained and justified in Deuteronomy 14:24-26.

    If that place [that the LORD orders for the sacrifices] is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish...

    So those merchants are necessary for Jews traveling too far to bring their sacrifices. Their mere presence should not cause the kind of reaction that Jesus had - there is more going on than that.
  • They were certainly told often enough, or more than often enough, not to worship idols and other Gods. It didn't work.

Psalms 42

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." A wonderful image, and deep down, I believe it's true. But up on top, it's hard. Do we really "pant...as the deer pants for streams of water?" Many of us, I fear, are scared of the commitment that comes from desiring God that way. What if we commit ourselves, our souls "thirst[ing] for God," and then "men say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?'" We fear having to ask, ""Why have you forgotten me?"

Jesus said that "blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." May it please God to have that be us, all the time, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and for God.

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.
1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?"

10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Deuteronomy 11-13

Deuteronomy chapter 11 contains an extended exhortation to love and obey the lord and "keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always." Moses reminds the Israelites that they need to remember that "your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt." He warns them to be careful "or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD's anger will burn against you."

In chapter 12, Moses reiterates the command to completely destroy the nations that they will be driving out of the land, all of their altars and idles and "wipe out their names from those places." The Israelites must not be seduced into the worship practices of those nations. And once they have taken possession of the promised land, "the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name" and all sacrificed must be brought there. "Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose." If the place is too far distant, the sacrifice can be converted to money and then exchanged at the place for the appropriate sacrifice, but they must not worship as the other nations do.

In chapter 13, he emphasizes yet again the importance of not worshipping other Gods. For example, if a prophet should announce a miraculous sign which takes place and then urges them to follow other Gods, "you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Moses gave the Israelites, explicitly, both a blessing and a curse. Entirely dependent upon their behavior.

    I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods
  • Earlier, during my commentary on Leviticus, I mentioned that I understood why Christians didn't need to perform animal sacrifices, but I didn't know why Jews no longer did. A little bit of research indicated that it was related to the destruction of the temple and instructions to do it only in a specific place. Part of the answer is here in Deuteronomy 12.

    Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

    Presumably, the LORD ended up telling them to do it in Jerusalem, they built the temple, and that's where the sacrifices were done. And then the Romans destroyed the temple, and now the place where they needed to do the sacrifices isn't there anymore. The interesting question now is, if they were to rebuild the temple, would the ritual sacrifices re-commence?

Psalms 41

In a random universe, coincidences will occur. In a God-created and directed universe, coincidences will occur. Whether we see divine providence in them will obviously depend upon our world-view, and often on the import and unlikeliness of the coincidence. There have been a couple of things happen during the course of the year so far where different items have lined up with my reading/writing schedule, and today saw another of them. Today was Enable Boston Sunday where we had a ministry moment and a testimony at church related to the Enable Boston ministry, a ministry dealing with differently able persons with all sorts of disabilities. In addition to the testimony, ministry moment and prayer, the sermon touched on the topic, and a blind woman played the offeratory on the piano (spectacularly.)

And I opened up the reading schedule to see that the wisdom reading for the day is Psalm 41.

Which opens, "blessed is he who has regard for the weak."


Psalm 41
For the director of music. A psalm of David.
1 Blessed is he who has regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers him in times of trouble.

2 The LORD will protect him and preserve his life;
he will bless him in the land
and not surrender him to the desire of his foes.

3 The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed
and restore him from his bed of illness.

4 I said, "O LORD, have mercy on me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you."

5 My enemies say of me in malice,
"When will he die and his name perish?"

6 Whenever one comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it abroad.

7 All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,

8 "A vile disease has beset him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies."

9 Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me.

10 But you, O LORD, have mercy on me;
raise me up, that I may repay them.

11 I know that you are pleased with me,
for my enemy does not triumph over me.

12 In my integrity you uphold me
and set me in your presence forever.

13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Deuteronomy 8-10

Deuteronomy eight is an exhortation from Moses for the Israelites to remember the Lord, to "remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you...as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you." And remembering the Lord means observing his commands, "walking in his ways and revering him." He extols the virtues of the land that has been promised them, and tells them to praise the Lord "when you have eaten and are satisfied," to be careful not to forget. Because "if you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods...you will surely be destroyed."

In chapter nine, Moses warns the Israelites not to attribute God's promises to them to their own righteousness. They are going to drive out the larger nations currently holding Canaan with God's help because of the wickedness of those nations, not the righteousness of the Israelites. He reminds them of the Golden Calf at Mount Horeb, and how "you also made the LORD angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah," and how, when the Lord sent them out from Kadesh Barnea to take the land, they had rebelled and angered him again. He told them how he has stood between them and the Lord's wrath on many occasions and reminded God that the Israelites are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm."

In chapter ten, he tells them that he chiselled out two tables, like the first ones which he had destroyed, and the LORD wrote on them. And how they made the ark and the tablets with the Ten Commandments lay within. He reminded them how the LORD had set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark and to minister and pronounce blessings in his name. And again, he reminds them to fear the Lord, "to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good." He reminds them that Israel went into Egypt as seventy men "and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The summary and rehash continues. It's like a valedictory address.
  • I don't remember this passage from the last time I read this book:

    You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

    There are a lot of people, myself as much as anyone else, who need to remember that.
  • That does not, however, give someone else the right to confiscate it.

Psalms 40

A psalm of praise. "I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry...he set my feet on a rock...put a new song in my mouth."

Psalm 40
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.

2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

4 Blessed is the man
who makes the LORD his trust,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.

6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.

7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.

8 I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart."

9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips,
as you know, O LORD.

10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.
I do not conceal your love and your truth
from the great assembly.

11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD;
may your love and your truth always protect me.

12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.

13 Be pleased, O LORD, to save me;
O LORD, come quickly to help me.

14 May all who seek to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.

15 May those who say to me, "Aha! Aha!"
be appalled at their own shame.

16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation always say,
"The LORD be exalted!"

17 Yet I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Deuteronomy 5-7

Deuteronomy five continues the summary and review of the law that Moses is giving the Israelites who will take the promised land. It starts with the ten commandments, as previously set forth in Exodus 20, which were then written on stone tablets and given to Moses. He tells them that they "heard the voice out of the darkness" and responded that they would "listen and obey." So they must "walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess." These reminders are followed, in chapter six, with repeated exhortations to "love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." And they were to teach their children about God bringing them out of Egypt, and if they were "careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness."

In chapter seven, Moses tells them that when they take the promised land, and drive out (with God's help) the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, they must utterly destroy those nations, their altars and idols and every remnant of their civilization. "Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you." He emphasizes the importance of the "commands, decrees and laws I give you today," and stresses that God will bless them if they do that, and punish them if they do not.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of things that's interesting in the first seven chapters of Deuteronomy is that the voice being heard is Moses'. We're not getting "the Lord said to Moses" at all, just "Moses said to the Israelites." Now, much of what he's saying is, "remember that the Lord said..." but it's specifically Moses attributing it, and the author attributes to Moses rather than the Lord directly.
  • This is, again, a repetition of earlier material. We don't learn, generally, on being told something once, so here God's word is repeated for the Israelites. Moses is not going to cross the Jordan with them, and everyone knows it, and he's the one who has been in direct communication with the Lord. It is important for everyone that he highlight and emphasize the important parts of the message, and repeats it in such a way that they will be able to remember it when he's gone.
  • Thus far, there's been no "action," if you will, and no new law or even commentary. This is the summary of the lessons of the forty years in the wilderness.

Psalms 39

Many of the psalms read like proverbs. This reads like a passage from Ecclesiastes. The teacher says many things like "you have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." And here, the psalmist is aging and, in the words of Dylan Thomas, "rag[ing] against the dying of the light." It's interesting in that this one ends with a plea for God to turn away. There's a strong sense of alienation, and it isn't the joyful or penitent prayer that so many of the psalms are.

Psalm 39
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. A psalm of David.
1 I said, "I will watch my ways
and keep my tongue from sin;
I will put a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence."

2 But when I was silent and still,
not even saying anything good,
my anguish increased.

3 My heart grew hot within me,
and as I meditated, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:

4 "Show me, O LORD, my life's end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting is my life.

5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Each man's life is but a breath.

6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

7 "But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.

8 Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools.

9 I was silent; I would not open my mouth,
for you are the one who has done this.

10 Remove your scourge from me;
I am overcome by the blow of your hand.

11 You rebuke and discipline men for their sin;
you consume their wealth like a moth—
each man is but a breath.

12 "Hear my prayer, O LORD,
listen to my cry for help;
be not deaf to my weeping.
For I dwell with you as an alien,
a stranger, as all my fathers were.

13 Look away from me, that I may rejoice again
before I depart and am no more."

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Deuteronomy 1-4

The book of Deuteronomy follows Numbers, and opens with the Israelites camped on the east side of the Jordan. Moses "spoke to all Israel in the desert" and for the first three chapters, he reviews with them the events which have followed the Exodus, as they have wandered the desert. In chapter one, he talks about the command to leave Horeb (Num 10), the appointment of leaders among the Israelites to help Moses (Num 11), the spying excursion into Canaan (Num 13) and the rebellion when the people would not go into the promised land (Num 14). Chapter two talks of how they wandered in the desert for thirty-eight years while "that entire generation of fighting men [who rebelled and refused to take the promised land] had perished from the camp," and how they defeated Sihon, the King of Heshbon (Num 21). Chapter three covers the defeat of Og, King of Bashan (Num 21), the division of the land on the east side of the Jordan (Num 32), and of Moses being forbidden to cross the Jordan (Num 20, 27).

Chapter four begins a restatement of the law, starting with admonitions to be obedient to the law of the Lord as he has given it to them. "Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb...He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow." Idolatry is forbidden, and if the Israelites "become corrupt and make any kind of idol...you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess." The Lord is God - "acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other." After setting aside three sanctuary cities east of the Jordan, Moses reiterated the "stipulations, decrees and laws Moses gave them when they came out of Egypt."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • "These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert..." If I remember correctly (and I'll know for sure in a week and a half), those opening words are an excellent summary of the book.
  • The first few chapters are a summary of the things that have happened to the Israelites since they came out of Egypt. No new law is handed down, no new events take place.
  • The ways of the LORD are not our ways, and we cannot see all that he sees. How can God allow bad things to happen to good people? "The LORD took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance...From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you..." There are no easy answers, and sometimes even the true answers are not comforting.

Psalms 38

The psalmist prays for comfort and help, struggling under a load of guilt. Many of the psalms are martial in nature, with afflictions caused by worldly enemies. This one is penitent, recognizing the wrath which sin has earned.

Psalm 38
A psalm of David. A petition.
1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.

2 For your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down upon me.

3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
my bones have no soundness because of my sin.

4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.

5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.

6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.

7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.

8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.

9 All my longings lie open before you, O Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.

10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.

11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.

12 Those who seek my life set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they plot deception.

13 I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear,
like a mute, who cannot open his mouth;

14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.

15 I wait for you, O LORD;
you will answer, O Lord my God.

16 For I said, "Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips."

17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.

18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.

19 Many are those who are my vigorous enemies;
those who hate me without reason are numerous.

20 Those who repay my good with evil
slander me when I pursue what is good.

21 O LORD, do not forsake me;
be not far from me, O my God.

22 Come quickly to help me,
O Lord my Savior.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Acts 26-28

In chapter 26, Agrippa tells Paul to speak for himself, and he begins by claiming that "according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee," and that he is on trial because of his "hope in what God has promised our fathers." He points out that the Jews are also hoping to see God's promise fulfilled, and working for that, and wonders why anyone should "consider it incredible that God raises the dead." He tells Agrippa of his work persecuting the church, and his conversion on the road to Damascus, and how he has "not [been] disobedient to the vision from heaven." When he told them that he proclaimed nothing beyond what Moses and the prophets would say, that "the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles," Festus interrupted him, telling him that he was insane. Agrippa agreed that he was "not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment," and tells Festus that he could have been released if he hadn't appealed to Caesar.

In chapter 27, Paul sails for Rome with several traveling companions, including, apparently, Luke, a centurion named Julius and Aristarchus, "a Macedonian from Thessalonica." They stopped in Sidon and then continued their journey, but it was late in the year and "sailing had already become dangerous." Paul warned the men ofthe ship that the voyage would be disastrous "and bring great loss to ship and cargo," but the centurion listened to the ship's pilot and owner rather than Paul and they sailed on, "hoping to reach Phoenix [a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest] and winter there." A south wind seemed as if it was what they wanted, but blew up into a hurricane force "northeaster" and the ship was driven along, eventually being wreck on a sandbar just off the island of Malta. As Paul had prophesied, all on-board survived.

Acts 28 starts with Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. The islanders welcomed them, building a fire in the rain and cold. Paul was bitten by a viper, and the islanders thought he must be a murderer not escaping justice, but when he didn't die they thought he was a God. They were welcomed into the home of the island's chief official, Publius, and Paul healed his father who was sick with fever and dysentery, and then the rest of the sick on the island were healed . They honored Paul and his companions and provided them with supplies when they were ready to sail three months later.

They sailed for Rome, and spent a week in Puteoli with some Christian brothers. When they reached Rome, "Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him." He called together the leaders of the Jews and explained his situation, and then said that they had received no letters about him from Judea, but wanted to hear what he had to say. They came on a day that they had arranged to meet and "from morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets." Some believed but others did not, and Paul finished by quoting Isaiah and telling them that "I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" The book ends there, telling us that Paul stayed in his own rented house for two years, preaching the Gospel boldly and unhinderedly.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The first sermon that I ever heard in Park Street Church was given by David Fisher on a Sunday evening at the end of May, 1989, and he spoke about the book of Acts. More specifically, the last word of Acts, which is, in Greek, "unhinderedly." He noted that it sounds ungrammatical in English to end a sentence with an adverb, but that it sounds awkward in Greek, also.

    There are speculations, because of this, that the end of the book is missing, or that Luke planned a third volume. But Fisher's position was that it was an appropriate ending, as what the book of Acts shows us is the Gospel moving out into the world, unhindered by any of those who have tried to stop it. From a small group of frightened disciples huddling in Jerusalem, the Gospel has, in the space of just two short generations (or one long one), acquired thousands or tens of thousands of believers and moved to the heart of the greatest empire on the earth. Ending the book would imply an ending, symbolically, to the acts of the apostles and the spread of the Gospel. Theologically, "unhinderedly" is an appropriate close, because the Gospel isn't ending and the acts of the apostles and disciples of Christ aren't ending - they continue to this day, and will continue until there are no more days.
  • This has been my most in-depth reading of this book, and I come away with an increased sense of historicity. There's almost nothing in here that doesn't read and ring true. While clearly written as a theological document, it's also clearly a history, with names and places of people and events clearly identified. The presence of the first person voice in places enhances the the believability, as it is clear when the author is speaking from personal knowledge and when he's getting information second hand. And the two voices carry the same message, from start to finish - the Gospel cannot be stopped by men.

Psalms 36:23-40

Everything I wrote yesterday about the first half of this psalm holds true for the second. It really is a collection of proverbs, of wisdom statements, praising the wise man and God, while condemning the wicked, and equating wickedness with failing to follow the Lord's way.

23 If the LORD delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm;

24 though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be blessed.

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.

28 For the LORD loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.
They will be protected forever,
but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;

29 the righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.

31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his feet do not slip.

32 The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
seeking their very lives;

33 but the LORD will not leave them in their power
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

34 Wait for the LORD
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a green tree in its native soil,

36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
there is a future for the man of peace.

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
the future of the wicked will be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

40 The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Acts 23-25

In Acts 23, Paul faces the Sanhedrin and declares that he has "fulfilled [his] duty to God in all good conscience to this day." "Knowing that some were Sadducees and the others Pharisees," he tells them that he is "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." This started an argument between the various members of the Sanhedrin, and some of the Pharisees defended him. The commander took Paul back to the barracks to protect him. "The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'"

The next morning, several of the Jews formed a conspiracy to kill Paul, but Paul's sister's son found about it and went to the centurions. The commander had a detachment of his centurions take Paul to Caesarea, with a letter to the Roman Governor Felix saying that he found "no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment." In Caesarea, Paul was kept under guard in Herod's palace.

Acts 24 tells about Paul's trial, about a week later, in front of the Governor. The high priest (Ananias) had come to Caesarea with a lawyer named Tertullus to present the charges, of being "a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world." Paul defended himself, saying that he didn't argue with anyone in the temple or stir up crowds in the synagogue or anywhere else in the city. And he professed his belief in God and that he was "a follower of the Way." "Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings." He told the commander to keep Paul under guard but "give him some freedom." Later, he spoke with his wife ("Drusilla, who was a Jewess") and then sent for Paul and listend to him talk of his faith in Jesus. "Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now!'" For two years Paul remained in prison until Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus.

In Acts 25, Paul is tried before Festus, who wants to send him to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jews. But Paul said that he was standing in Caesar's court, where he should be tried. After Festus conferred with his council, he agreed that "to Caesar you will go!" A few days later, King Agrippa arrived at Caesarea and Festus discussed Paul's case with him. Agrippa expressed interest in hearing Paul for himself. And Agrippa entered Festus' audience room the next day, and Paul was brought in to see him.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Paul's pugnacious side is on display here. He's not going to back down, at all, from his beliefs or acquiesce to those who want him stopped.
  • This is another section of the book that carries the unmistakeable air of historical truth.

Psalms 36:1-22

The psalmist here is again giving us essentially proverbs. As we saw so often in the book of proverbes, we've got the comparison of the wicked and the righteous, and how trust in the Lord is essential for a good life.

Psalm 37
Of David.
1 Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;

2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:

6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9 For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.

12 The wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;

13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.

15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

16 Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;

17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.

18 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.

19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

20 But the wicked will perish:
The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields,
they will vanish—vanish like smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;

22 those the LORD blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be cut off.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Acts 19-22

In Acts 19, Paul arrives in Ephesus and asks some of the disciples whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized. Told that they hadn't he aked what baptism they'd received, and was told, "John's." Paul told them that John's was a baptism of repentance and baptized them "into the name of the Lord Jesus...the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied." Paul preached in the synagogue there for three months, then, after some "became obstinate...publicly maligned the Way," he took the disciples and "had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus" for two years, and God did "extraordinary miracles" through Paul. Some Jews who had driven out spirits "tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed," but a demon replied "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" And the possessed man "overpowered them all," a story which had all of the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus "seized with fear" and honoring the name of Jesus. Many who had practiced sorcery "brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly," scrolls valued at fifty thousand drachmas. After all this, Paul decided to go through Macedona and Achaia on his way to Jerusalem, and that he must visit Rome. He sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia.

"About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way." A silversmith (Demetrius) who made pagan idols, called the craftsmen together, and expressed concern that Paul's work would endanger their trade and "that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself." They caused a great riot, and "the people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia." Paul wanted to address the crowd but the disciples held him back. But the city clerk addressed the crowd and told them that "these men...have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess," and dismissed the assembly.

In chapter 20, Paul traveled through Macedonia and Greece with several companions. They all met and spent a week in Troas where Paul raised a young man named Eutychus who had fallen from a third story window. Paul then traveled on foot to Assos and met the ship carrying his companions, and then decided to hurry to Jerusalem, by Pentecost if possible. He had the leaders of the church in Ephesus come to Miletus to meet with him, and gave them his farewell, telling them that "compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there," and that "none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again." They wept and prayed with him, and accompanied him to his ship.

In chapter 21, Paul returns to Jerusalem, passing through Rhodes and Cyprus and Tyre. He and his companions spent seven days in Tyre, with the disciples urging them not to go to Jerusalem. He traveled from Tyre to Caesarea, staying at the house of "Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven." A prophet named Agabus traveled from Judea, and tied Paul's hands and feet with his own belt, saying that "In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles." Paul was not dissuaded, insisting that he was ready not just to be bound "but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And they went up to Jerusalem, where they were received warmly by the disciples. The next day, they went to see James, with all of the elders, and Paul greeted them and "reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry." The praised God, and then told Paul that the Jewish believer were "zealous for the law" and had been informed that Paul was teaching Jews to "turn away from Moses." They proposed that he take four men among them who had made a vow and "join in their purification rites and pay their expenses" so that people would "know there is no truth in these reports." The next day, he purified himself along with them, then gave notice at the temple of the days when the purification would end and the offering be made. When the time of purification was almost over, Paul was publically accused of teaching against the Mosaic law, seized and dragged from the temple. The commander of the Roman troops heard of the uproar as the crowd was trying to kill Paul, and tooks some soldiers to stop the riot. He arrested Paul and had him chained up, and asked the crowd who he was, but there was too much tumult to get an answer, so he had him taken away to the barracks. When they got there, Paul told them that he was a Jew from Tarsus, and asked to speak to the people. They allowed him to, and he addressed the crowd in Aramaic.

In chapter 22, Paul defended himself, in Aramaic, before the crowd. He told them that he was a Jew, "thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers" under Gamaliel, and "just as zealous for God as any of you are today." He told them of how he persecuted the church, and then shared the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. When he told them that the Lord said to him that "I will send you far away to the Gentiles," the crowd "raised their voices" and called for his execution. The Roman commander had him taken into the barracks and directed that he be flogged and questioned, but Paul asked whether it was legal to flog a Roman citizen who hadn't been convicted of anything. When asked, he told them that he was born a citizen, and they did not flog him. The next day, he released him and order the priests and Sanhedrin to assemble, and had Paul brought before them.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • As in chapter 16, Luke reports some of these journeys and events in the first person plural, as a participant and eyewitness.
  • The story of Eutychus is one that could be true without any miracle, if the first people to reach him just thought he was dead and didn't make a thorough examination before Paul got there. I frankly dislike the resurrection stories in Acts, because they don't ring true to me. The barrier between life and death is a significant one, a veil that Jesus pierced, if you will, and it's hard for me to believe that God would have the apostles doing it willy-nilly afterwards.
  • The story of the silversmith and the riot in Ephesus, on the other hand, absolutely rings true. Certainly, those in the business of making idols were going to be hurt if the market for idols dried up.
  • I find the reference to "Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven" perplexing. One of the Seven what? Of course, as I write this, a memory stirs - hold on just a second...Yup, my bad, never mind. Philip is, of course, one of the seven chosen to offload the chores of day-to-day living from the apostles back in Acts 6:5, along with Stephen and five others.
  • The reading schedule stopped after chapter 21, but I thought that was a bad place for it, so I did chapter 22 also.

Psalms 36

For four verses, the psalmist deals in "the sinfulness of the wicked." The first, and most serious charge, is that "there is no fear of God before his eyes." I've mentioned before that there are parts of the Psalms, translated into English and broken into verses, that read much like parts of the book of proverbs. Well, Proverbs tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," and here the Psalmist tells us that the lack of that fear is the "sinfulness of the wicked."

And there's a lot of truth here. That is, in the end, what sin is - it's a turning away from God, from God's word. Sinfulness comes when we focus on ourselves and "in [our] own eyes [we] flatter [ourselves] too much to detect or hate [our] sin..."

Psalm 36
For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD.
1 An oracle is within my heart
concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

2 For in his own eyes he flatters himself
too much to detect or hate his sin.

3 The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful;
he has ceased to be wise and to do good.

4 Even on his bed he plots evil;
he commits himself to a sinful course
and does not reject what is wrong.

5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find [b] refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.

9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10 Continue your love to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.

11 May the foot of the proud not come against me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

12 See how the evildoers lie fallen—
thrown down, not able to rise!

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Acts 16-18

In chapter 16, Paul went to Derbe and then to Lystra, where he met Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Greek, who was a believer. Paul wanted to take him along, so he was circumcised and and went with Paul as they traveled through the churches, bearing the decisions from the council in Jerusalem. Laster, as they were in Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come and help them. So they sailed from Troas and made their way to Philippi ("a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia") and stayed there for a while. On the Sabbath, they spoke outside the city gate and converted a woman named Lydia, and she and her household were baptized, and Paul and his companions stayed there. After driving a spirit out of a slave girl, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail for "throwing [the] city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for ... Romans to accept or practice." In the middle of the night, there was an earthquake throwing open the doors of the jail and striking off the shackles of the prisoners. The jailer, seeing the doors opened, "was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped," but Paul called to him to tell him that all of the prisoners were still there. The jailer "rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas" and asked them what he had to do to be saved. The jailer took them to his home and he and his family were baptized. When the magistrates learned, the following day, that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they took them out of prison and asked them to leave the city.

In chapter 17, Paul travels to Greece. First in Thessalonica and then in Berea, they went in to the synagogues and the Jews were outspoken against them. In Berea, Timothy and Silas stayed while Paul went on to Athens. There "he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols." He reasoned with Jews and Greeks in the synagogues and the marketplace. A group of philosophers that he argued with brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus to "know what this new teaching is." He talked about an inscription - "To an unknown God" - and told them that "the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." Many sneered but some wanted to hear more and were converted.

Acts 18 tells of Paul going to Corinth, where he worked as a tentmaker with a Jew named Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Whn Silas and Timothy joined him, Paul "devoted himself exclusively to preaching" but when the Jews opposed him, he "shook out his clothes in protest" and declared that he would, from now on, "go to the Gentiles." And he stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. He later sailed for Syran with Priscilla and Aquila, had his hair cut off in Cenchrea "because of a vow he had taken" and arrived at Ephesus where he left Priscilla and Aquila. He again preach in a synagogue, but refused when they asked him to stay, saying "I will come back if it is God's will." He visited the church at Caesarea and then went to Antioch. After some time there, he traveled again, through the region of Galatia and Phrygia.

A native of Alexandria, a Jew named Apollos, came to Ephesus with a "thorough knowledge of the Scriptures" and "taught about Jesus accurately." When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they invited him to their home for further discussion. "He was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the most notable aspects of chapter 16 is the sudden change in voice. Through the first 15 chapters, everything is third person. In chapter 16, we get a shift into first person plural. While Luke the historian passes on what he has been told about the events in the Gospel and the first 15 chapters of Acts, he relates at least some of what happens next as an eyewitness to the events.
  • Interesting that Paul cutting off his hair because of a vow was noteworthy, but not noteworthy enough to give us anydetails about it.
  • It's hard, strictly using the internal sources in Acts, to date any of these even with any specificity. Or at least it seems that way to me.

Psalms 35

The psalmist cries for help. A martial plea for martial virtue and martial aid.

Psalm 35
Of David.
1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.

2 Take up shield and buckler;
arise and come to my aid.

3 Brandish spear and javelin [a]
against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul,
"I am your salvation."

4 May those who seek my life
be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.

5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away;

6 may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.

7 Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,

8 may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

9 Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD
and delight in his salvation.

10 My whole being will exclaim,
"Who is like you, O LORD ?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them."

11 Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.

12 They repay me evil for good
and leave my soul forlorn.

13 Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,

14 I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.

15 But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
attackers gathered against me when I was unaware.
They slandered me without ceasing.

16 Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked [b] ;
they gnashed their teeth at me.

17 O Lord, how long will you look on?
Rescue my life from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.

18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among throngs of people I will praise you.

19 Let not those gloat over me
who are my enemies without cause;
let not those who hate me without reason
maliciously wink the eye.

20 They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.

21 They gape at me and say, "Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it."

22 O LORD, you have seen this; be not silent.
Do not be far from me, O Lord.

23 Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.

24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, O LORD my God;
do not let them gloat over me.

25 Do not let them think, "Aha, just what we wanted!"
or say, "We have swallowed him up."

26 May all who gloat over my distress
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
be clothed with shame and disgrace.

27 May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, "The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant."

28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness
and of your praises all day long.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Acts 13-15

In Acts 13, the Holy Spirit said to the prophets and teachers at Antioch to "set apart for me Barnabas and Saul." So they fasted and prayed and laid hands on them and sent them off. They went to Seleucia and sailed for Cyprus, where "they proclaimed the word of God" in the synagogues. In Paphos, they met a Jewish sorceror (Bar-Jesus or Elymas) who attended the proconul (Sergius Paulus). The proconsul wanted to hear Saul and Barnabas had to say but Elymas opposed them. Saul "filled with the Holy Spirit" looked at him, accused him of being "a child of the devil and an aenemy of everything that is right" and told him he would be blind, and "immediately mist and darkness came over him." The proconsul saw what had happened and believed. Later, Paul (formerly Saul) and his companions whent to Psidian Antioch where they were invited to speak in the synagogue. Paul preached the God of Israel and the Gospel of Jesus and the people invited them to speak more about these things on the next sabbath. The next sabbath "almost the whole city gathered" but the Jews "were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying." The word of God spread through the regious, but the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and they "shook the dust from their feet in protest...and went to Iconium."

In chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas went and preached "as usual" at the synagogue. They were so effective that many believed, but the Jews who didn't "stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers." They remained and the Lord "confirmed the mssage of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders." They found out about a plot to stone them and fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe "where they continued to preach the good news." In Lystra told a crippled man to rise, and he did, which aroused the people to think that they were the gods Zeus (Barnabas) and Hermes and to gather food to sacrifice to them. But Paul and Barnabas stopped them, insisting that "we too are only men, human like you." They stopped the sacrifices with difficulty, but then "some Jews came from Antioch and Ioconium and won the crowd over." Paul was stoned, dragged out of the city and left for dead, but "after the disciples gather around him," he arose. Then he and Barnabas left for Derbe, where they preached the Gospel and "won a large number of disciples." They then returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, encouraging the churches they had planted.

Acts 15 describes the council at Jerusalem, at which there was discussion about how much of the Mosaic code must apply to Gentile believers, starting with concerns about circumcision. Some pharisaic believers said that the Gentiles should be required to be circumcised. Peter reminded them of his vision in which God "made no distinction between us and them" and suggested that they should not "try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear." Paul and Barnabas talked about the miracles and wonders they had witnessed among the Gentiles, and James suggested that they "should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God," that they should tell them "to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." This decision was put into a letter and sent to Antioch with Paul, Barnabas, Silas and Judas (Barsabbas). Silas and Judas later returned to Jerusalem, but Paul and Barnabas remained teaching in Antioch. Some time after that, Paul wanted to go back to the towns where they had preached, but they had a disagreement when Barnabas wanted to take John Mark but Paul didn't ("because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.") Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, "strengthening the churches."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • In chapter 15, we make the conversion from Saul to Paul. There is no explanation, not that I can see anyway, but he's never Saul again.
  • Obviously, the council of Jerusalem was a tremendously significant historical account. The spread of Christianity could have been hampered greatly by a decision to impose the Mosaic code and Levitical laws against Gentile converts.
  • It's interesting that Paul can blind a man who doesn't believe, and heal one that does, but he and Barnabas can't work out whether to bring Mark along on their journey and actually separate as a result of the disagreement. But it is the kind of "warts and all" detail that authentic history tends to contain and hagiography tends to leave out.

Psalms 34

Praise. Constant and unadulterated. It's a proverb made into a song, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving sung to the Lord...

Psalm 34
Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.
1 [a] I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.

2 My soul will boast in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.

3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.

5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

9 Fear the LORD, you his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.

12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.

14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their cry;

16 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.

18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 A righteous man may have many troubles,
but the LORD delivers him from them all;

20 he protects all his bones,
not one of them will be broken.

21 Evil will slay the wicked;
the foes of the righteous will be condemned.

22 The LORD redeems his servants;
no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.