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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Judges 16-18

Judges 16 contains the well-story of Samson and Delilah. Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, and the rulers of the Philistines promised her great wealth if she could find out the secret of Samson's great strength for them. He first told her that if he were tied with seven fresh thongs, then if he were tied with seven new ropes, then if his hair was woven and pinned, but each time, when bound, he snapped the restraints easily. She kept asking, though, and "with such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death, so he told her everything." When he was sleeping, she had his head shaved "and his strength left him." The Philistines took him, gouged his eyes out, and took him to prison. Then they arranged a sacrifice to their god Dagon, and brought Samson in to entertain them. He prayed to the LORD to strengthen him just once more, and he pushed the center pillars apart, bringing the temple down, killing everyone there, as well as himself. "Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived."

Chapter 17 starts with a man named Micah, out of the hill country of Ephraim, who admits to his mother that he took the eleven hundred shekels that she was missing. He returned the silver and she took some to the silversmith and had made an image and an idol, which he put in his house, making a shrine. "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." A Levite from Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay, agreed to stay with Micah and be his priest.

In chapter 18, five Danites, looking for their tribe's inheritance. They stopped at Micah's house and the Levite priest told them that their journey had the LORD's approval. They went into Laish and saw that the land lacked nothing and the people living there did not expect an attack. So six hundred Danites started towards Laish, but stopped in Ephraim, and took Micah's priest, and his idols and household gods. Micah challenged them, but recognized that they were stronger than he, and let them go. They took Laish, and renamed it Dan. "There the Danites set up for themselves the idols... they continued to use the idols Micah had made, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I'm sorry, but how dumb is Samson? Every time he tells her the false secret of his strength, she ties him up and calls the Philistines. What did he expect to happen when he told her the real secret?
  • Samson is the last of the Judges in the book. The story of Micah and his household idols is the first of the two epilogues I spoke of earlier.

Proverbs 27:1-14

Some of the things that are in this book make me chuckle. Like this one - "If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse." True, of course, but the kind of thing that seems almost too trite and obvious to be in here.

Proverbs 27

1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring forth.

2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips.

3 Stone is heavy and sand a burden,
but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.

4 Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming,
but who can stand before jealousy?

5 Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.

6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.

7 He who is full loathes honey,
but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.

8 Like a bird that strays from its nest
is a man who strays from his home.

9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.

10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father,
and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you—
better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

11 Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart;
then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.

12 The prudent see danger and take refuge,
but the simple keep going and suffer for it.

13 Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger;
hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman.

14 If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Judges 13-15

In Judges chapter 13, "again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years." Toward the end of that time, a childless couple was visited by the angel of the LORD, who told them that they would have a son, and that "no razor may be used on his head" because he was to be a Nazirite. And when he was born, they named him Samson.

In chapter 14, Samson saw a Philistine woman and wanted her for his wife. While he was going down to Timnah to see her, a lion attacked and "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands." Later, when he went back to marry her, he look at the lion's carcass and saw that bees had nested there, and he scooped out honey and ate it. When he made a wedding feast, he gave a riddle to the 30 companions he had been given, to which the answer was the honey, but no one could solve it. His wife pressed him for the answer, and he finally gave it to her, and she explained it to her people. They then answered it before the deadline, and he had to give suits of clothes to the 30 companions. He struck down thirty in Askelon and gave those clothes to those who had answered the riddle and returned to his father's home. His wife was then given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.

In chapter 15, Samson went to see his wife and found that she'd been given to his friend. He was mad and got even with the Philistines by catching three hundred foxes, tying their tails together, tying lit torches to each pair of tails and setting them loose in the Philistines' grain. When the Philistines found out who had done it and why, they burned his wife and her father to death. Samson vowed further revenge on the Philistines. Three thousand men from Judah came to him and asked why he was doing what he was doing (because, after all, the Philistines were rulers over Israel.) They told him that they had come to tie him up and take him to the Philistines and he agreed as long as they promised not to kill him themselves. They tied him up, but as they approached Lehi and the Philistines came towards him shouting, "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands." He grabbed the fresh jawbone of a donkey and struck down a thousand of them. He then prayed and the LORD opened up a well from which he drank, and his strength returned. "Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Samson's parents are told by the angel of the LORD that he is to be a Nazirite. This is the second time of three times that the term is used in the Old Testament. The first time it appears is in Numbers 6, when the Nazirite is described, and the third is in the writings of the prophet Amos, who talks about Israel's treatment of prophets and Nazirites. The Nazirite is set apart for God.
  • Obviously, Samson shouldn't be marrying a Philistine. The Israelites are supposed to have driven out the Philistines. Of course, the scripture says that the LORD wanted this because he "was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines."

Proverbs 20:15-25

Words, words, words - much more here about words.

I thinks this is an amusing verse: "Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own." Very descriptive.

And that frequent theme of the proverbs, "fervent lips...disguises with his lips...a lying tongue...a flattering mouth..."

Proverbs 26:17-28 (New International Version)

17 Like one who seizes a dog by the ears
is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

18 Like a madman shooting
firebrands or deadly arrows

19 is a man who deceives his neighbor
and says, "I was only joking!"

20 Without wood a fire goes out;
without gossip a quarrel dies down.

21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to a man's inmost parts.

23 Like a coating of glaze [a] over earthenware
are fervent lips with an evil heart.

24 A malicious man disguises himself with his lips,
but in his heart he harbors deceit.

25 Though his speech is charming, do not believe him,
for seven abominations fill his heart.

26 His malice may be concealed by deception,
but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

27 If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it;
if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him.

28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Judges 10-12

Judges ten starts with brief descriptions of two minor judges, Tola and Jair, who "led Israel" for 23 and 22 years after the time of Abimelech. Then Israel turned away from God and he put them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites. The Israelites cried out to God, acknowledged their sin, "got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD."

Chapter eleven tells the story of Jephthah, a son of Gilead by a prostitute, who was driven away by his legitimate brothers. But he was a mighty warrior and when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead begged him to be their commander. They promised that he would be their leader if he agreed, even after the battle, some he came to Mizpah and agreed to lead them. He sent word to the king of the Ammonites asking why he had attacked Israel, and was told that when Israel came out of Egypt, "they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably." Jephthah answered that Israel had requested passage through Edom and Moab and been refused, and so had skirted those territories and then been attacked anyway. "The LORD...gave Sihon and all his men into Israel's hands" and they took all that land. And no one had even tried to take it back in three hundred years. "I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me." But the king of Ammon ignored him. "Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah." He made a vow to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his door when he returned home if the LORD gave the Ammonites into his hands, which he did when he went to fight them. When Jephthah returned home, the first thing that came out of his door was his daughter, his only child. He cried and tore his clothes, and she told him that he must keep his vow to the LORD, but asked for two months "to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry." And when she returned, he did as he had vowed.

Chapter twelve starts with an altercation between Jephthah and the men of Ephraim. The men of Ephraim threatened to burn Jephthah's house down because he had not called them to fight the Ammonites. He called the men of Gilead together and fought against them. The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim and killed and Ephraimite that tried to cross. Jephthah led Israel for six years. The chapter ends with brief notes on three more minor judges, Ibzan (seven years), Elon (ten) and Abdon (eight).

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Does Abimelech count as a judge? I'm not sure. In any event, it's easy to see the parallels between he and Jephthah. Each is the son of a prominent man, but not by a wife (and it might be interesting to do a study of what the difference is between the usage of the words translated as "concubine" and "prostitute"). Each is a warrior, shunned by the prominent man's other sons. But they certainly did not follow the same path.
  • The LORD told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and he prepared to do so, but the angel of the LORD stopped him. No one told Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter - he made an extravagant but stupid vow, and while one can understand that he felt a need to complete it, it's hard to make much sense of this story. How does one honor the LORD by committing an act which is objectively evil? Was not one of the evils of the culture of Canaan the act of child sacrifice to Baal or Moloch? I cannot make this one work.

Proverbs 26:1-16

I'm not sure what to make of this:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Yes, they are not directly contradictory, because the secondary clauses are not opposite. But the first verse says don't answer a fool, the second verse says, essentially, that you should.

There are several more proverbs by analogy in this section.

Proverbs 26

1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
honor is not fitting for a fool.

2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,
an undeserved curse does not come to rest.

3 A whip for the horse, a halter for the donkey,
and a rod for the backs of fools!

4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.

5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

6 Like cutting off one's feet or drinking violence
is the sending of a message by the hand of a fool.

7 Like a lame man's legs that hang limp
is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

8 Like tying a stone in a sling
is the giving of honor to a fool.

9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard's hand
is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

10 Like an archer who wounds at random
is he who hires a fool or any passer-by.

11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
so a fool repeats his folly.

12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

13 The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road,
a fierce lion roaming the streets!"

14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so a sluggard turns on his bed.

15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.

16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who answer discreetly.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


James 3-5

In chapter seven, Gideon (who is also called Jerub-Baal, because he tore down Baal's altar) was told by the LORD that he had too many men, because if they defeated Midian with that many, Israel might boast of its own strength rather than the LORD. So Gideon told his many that any who were afraid should go home, and twenty-two thousand left, leaving ten thousand. The LORD told Gideon that there were still too many, so they went down to the spring, and separated "those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." Those who got down on their knees were sent home, leaving Gideon with three hundred men. That night, the LORD told Gideon to go down into the valley where the Midianite camp was and "listen to what they are saying." When he did, he heard a man tell another of a dream which they interpreted as meaning that God had given the Midianites and the whole camp into Gidon's hands. He divided his three hundred into three companies, and all took trumpets and empty jars. They approached the Midian camp and blew their trumpets and broke the jars and the Midianites all fled, and the LORD caused the men in the camp to attack each other with swords. The army fled and Gideon sent messengers into the hill country calling the Ephraimites to take the Jordan ahead of them. They did, and captured and killed two of the Midianite leaders, Oreb and Zeeb.

In chapter eight, the Ephraimites are resentful of Gideon not calling them at the beginning, but he praise their grapes and said that God gave Oreb and Zeeb into their hands, and their resentment subsided. As Gideon and his men chased the remains of the Midianites, they were exhausted and asked for bread in Succoth, but the officials refused and Gideon promised to "tear your flesh with desert thorns and briers." In Peniel, the same refusal was made and he swore to tear down their tower. Gideon caught up to the armies of Zebah and Zalmunna (two kings of Midian) and routed their forces. As they returned through Succoth, he punished the men with desert thorns and briers, and he had said he would. "He also pulled down the tower of Peniel and killed the men of the town." He told his oldest son Jether to kill the two kings, but he was only a boy and afraid so he did it himself. Then the Israelites wanted to make him a king, but he refused, saying that "the LORD will rule over you." But he asked for one earring from each from their share of the plunder. He made all the gold into an ephod which he plaeced in his town, Ophrah, and "Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family." So during Gideon's lifetime, Israel had forty years of peace. He went home to live and seventy sons by many wives, and a son Abimelech by a concubine in Shechem. But as soon as he died, Israel turned back to Baal, and failed to show kindness to the family of Gideon for all that he had done.

Chapter nine tells of how Abimelech, son of Gideon by a concubine in Schechem, went to his mother's brothers and clan and asked whether they'd rather have seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over them or just him, their own flesh and blood. The Shechemites agreed to follow him and gave him silver, with which he hired "reckless adventurers" and went to Ophrah and killed the seventy sons, other than Jotham, the youngest, who escaped by hiding. Jotham went to the top of Mount Gerizima nd called out to the people of Shechem a story of trees seeking a king, which ended with a warning or prophecy. He told them that if they had "acted honorably and in good faith" when they had made Abimelech king, "may Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too!" But if not, "let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you...and let fire come out from you...and consume Abimelech!" And then Jotham fled. Abimelech governed Israel for three years and then "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem." Gaal moved with his brothers into Schechem and he asked, "who is Abimelech that we should be subject to him?" News of this reached Abimelech who gathered his troops and took up position outside the city in four companies. There was a battle and Gaal and his brothers were driven out of Shechem. The next day, Abimelech took the city, destroyed it and salted it. He burned the tower of Shechem, killing the people who had taken refuge there. Then he moved on to Thebez, and repeated the process. As he tried to set it on fire, however, a woman dropped a millstone on his head and cracked his skull. He told his armor-bearer to kill him, so that it couldn't be said that "a woman killed him." "Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech had done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers. God also made the men of Shechem pay for all their wickedness. The curse of Jotham son of Jerub-Baal came on them."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The citizens of Succoth and Peniel were not particularly accommodating or helpful to Gideon and his men, but it's hard to see that the response of killing them all is justified.
  • The story of Judges, again, is the repeated failure of the people of Israel to follow God. They are repeatedly seduced by the culture around them. And every time, God saves them, and then they turn away. Again.

Proverbs 25:15-28

This section features several analogies. "Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble....Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control." I once heard someone in a speech say something that I like, and have thought of many times - "I like analogies, because they create a picture in the mind." We can understand intellectually that false testimony is bad, but we can also try to justify or rationalize it. The comparison to a "club or a sword or a sharp arrow" makes it a lot hard to rationalize away.

Proverbs 25:15-28 (New International Version)

15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

16 If you find honey, eat just enough—
too much of it, and you will vomit.

17 Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house—
too much of you, and he will hate you.

18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.

19 Like a bad tooth or a lame foot
is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.

20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day,
or like vinegar poured on soda,
is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

23 As a north wind brings rain,
so a sly tongue brings angry looks.

24 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

25 Like cold water to a weary soul
is good news from a distant land.

26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted well
is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.

27 It is not good to eat too much honey,
nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.

28 Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Judges 4-6

In chapter four, we find out that "after Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD." (This is, of course, the theme of the book.) The LORD put Israel under the reign of Jabin, "a king of Canaan," who oppressed them for twenty years. Deborah, "a prophetess... was leading Israel at that time." She sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam and told him that the LORD commanded him to take 10,000 men "and lead the way to Mount Tabor." He said that he'd go only if she when with him and she agreed, but said that "because of the way you are going about this," the LORD was going to hand Sisera (the command of Jabin's army) "over to a woman." During the battle, "the LORD routed Sisera" and he fled, and stopped at the tent of Jael, wife of Heber (a Kenite). She gave him milk and put a cloth over him, then, while he was sleeping, drove a tent spike through his temples into the ground, killing him. When Barak came looking for him, Jael showed him lying dead on the ground.

Chapter five features the Song of Deborah, a song that Deborah and Barak sang praising the lord, and telling the story of their suffering under Jabin, the battle that they won, and the deeds of Jael. "Then the land had peace forty years."

Chapter six begins with, "again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD." This time the LORD raised up Midian as an oppressor, and "Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help." The LORD sent an angel to Gideon to say that "the LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Gideon was resistant to the call, saying that he was the weakest in his family, and his "clan is the weakest in Manasseh." The LORD told him that he would be with him. Gideon offered a sacrifice, and was afraid when "fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread." The LORD then told him to tear down his father's altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole, and he did it in the night as he was afraid of the reaction of his family and the men of the town. In the morning, when the others saw what had been done, they asked who did it, and investigation reveals that it was Gideon. When the town's people wanted to kill him, his father Joash defended him, ask "are you going to plead Baal's cause?" So "the spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon" and he blew a trumpet, gathering people to join him. He then asked the LORD to give him more signs, first asking that he leave dew on a fleece while the rest of the ground was dry, and then leaving the fleece dry with dew on the rest of the ground, each of which the LORD did.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • One of the things about the judges is that almost all of them are people who are, or come from circumstances which are, unexpected. Gideon was the weakest member of the weakest family of one of the tribes, Ehud was crippled in his right hand, Deborah was a woman, but each was called and led.
  • It's interesting that, no matter how much evidence the LORD gave Gideon, he kept asking for more. Yet he is remembered as one of the major judges.

Proverbs 25:15-25

There's an interesting note to this passage, as these are alleged to be proverbs of Solomon, but they were "copied by the men of Hezekiah" who ruled much later. Were they added to a book late, creating the book of proverbs we know? Were all of the proverbs gathered in the time of Hezekiah? I seem to have a vague recollection of books of the law being rediscovered during one of the reigns, maybe Hezekiah's. It's something that I'll try to keep in mind when I get to Kings...

Proverbs 25
More Proverbs of Solomon
1 These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah:

2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

3 As the heavens are high and the earth is deep,
so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.

4 Remove the dross from the silver,
and out comes material for the silversmith;

5 remove the wicked from the king's presence,
and his throne will be established through righteousness.

6 Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence,
and do not claim a place among great men;

7 it is better for him to say to you, "Come up here,"
than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.
What you have seen with your eyes

8 do not bring hastily to court,
for what will you do in the end
if your neighbor puts you to shame?

9 If you argue your case with a neighbor,
do not betray another man's confidence,

10 or he who hears it may shame you
and you will never lose your bad reputation.

11 A word aptly spoken
is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold
is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.

13 Like the coolness of snow at harvest time
is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him;
he refreshes the spirit of his masters.

14 Like clouds and wind without rain
is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Judges 1-3

Judges chapter one begins after the death of Joshua, but immediately "flashes back" to the middle of the conquest. The chapter starts with the Israelites asking the LORD who would be first to go up and fight against the Canaanites and being told that Judah would go. The Simeonites went with them to fight for Judah's territory after being promised that Judah would help them fight for theirs. Judah attacked and "the LORD gave the Canaanites and Perizzites into their hands." At Bezek they fought against Adoni-bezek who fled, but they captured him and cut off his thumbs and big toes, which he said he had done to seventy kings, and by which he also said, "God has paid me back for what I did to them." They took Jerusalem and then went to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country. After taking Hebron, Caleb offered his daughter Achsah to "the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher" and Othniel, his younger brother did so. (This story is repeated verbatim from chapter 15 of Joshua.) Judah took the hill country "but they were unable to drive the people from the plains." Likewise, "the Benjamites ... failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem" and "Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements" and all of the other tribes had people that they failed to drive out.

In chapter two, the angel of the LORD came to Bokim and told the Israelites that they had disobeyed the LORD, as they had not driven out all of the people. "Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you." The "people wept aloud" and offered sacrifices to the LORD. It then goes on to tell of Joshua's death and burial. "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel." It describes the process which is repeated throughout the book, in which Israel drifts away from the LORD, is punished, cries out for help, the LORD raised up judges, the judges save the people and they follow the LORD until the next generation after the death of the judge, and then the process repeats.

Chapter three starts with a list of some of the nations "the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan," which he did "to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience." The Israelites then "did evil in the eyes of the LORD" and he "sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim." After eight years, Othniel became Israel's judge and went to war and freed them, and there was peace for forty years until Othniel died. Then, again, "the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD," and he "gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel." Again he raised a deliverer, Ehud, who slew Eglon and led Israel in battle against Moab. "After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Unlike most of what I'm commenting on this year, I've read the book of Judges recently. I spent some time last fall reading it (as well as 1 and 2 Samuel). In addition, Dr. Gordon Hugenberger, who is our Senior Pastor at Park Street Church, a noted Old Testament scholar, and a man who is currently writing a commentary on the book, has been preaching on it for the past couple of months. Not only that, but he gave me twenty minutes of commentary on a very difficult passage at the end of this book last fall when I read it. So a) I have more background information on this book as I get into it than I've had on most of them and b) a lot of what I'll probably be saying is Gordon's interpretation. It will be much better coming from him, and I'm very much looking forward to the commentary, assuming that he can bring himself to consider it done and let it get published.
  • Structurally, the book has essentially two prologues and two epilogues, with stories of twelve Judges in the middle. It is placed historically post-conquest, as the Israelites have occupied the promised land, but before the establishment of the Kingdom.
  • The first prologue covers the conquest, and the failure of the Israelites to remove the various Canaanites peoples that they left in the land. It runs up through the death of Joshua at the beginning of chapter two. The second describes the process of repeated evil, subjugation and redemption which takes place in the book.
  • The book can be summed up by this line, variations of which appear in several places: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."
  • It is difficult to tell exactly where the flashback in chapter one begins. Certainly, the story of Caleb, Achsah and Othniel is a verbatim copy of the same story from Joshua fifteen. Whether it was a "flash-forward" then, and Joshua was dead when it happened, or a "flash-back" here, I don't know how you'd tell. There's enough reference to events which were, or at least may have been, previously referenced in Joshua, that my inclination is towards the latter, but I'm certainly not sure.
  • One of the reasons I believe that is that chapter two recounts Joshua's death and burial again. I believe that most, if not all, of the action from chapter one takes place before Joshua's death.
  • The story of Ehud is far more interesting than I made it sound. (The link is to a recent sermon from Dr. Gordon Hugenberger, and I highly recommend it. I am really looking forward to the commentary.)

Proverbs 24:23-34

This passage contains a couple of back to back verses that address things I've written of frequently or recently.
Do not testify against your neighbor without cause, or use your lips to deceive. Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did.

Proverbs 24:23-34 (New International Version)

23 These also are sayings of the wise:
To show partiality in judging is not good:

24 Whoever says to the guilty, "You are innocent"—
peoples will curse him and nations denounce him.

25 But it will go well with those who convict the guilty,
and rich blessing will come upon them.

26 An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.

27 Finish your outdoor work
and get your fields ready;
after that, build your house.

28 Do not testify against your neighbor without cause,
or use your lips to deceive.

29 Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me;
I'll pay that man back for what he did."

30 I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;

31 thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.

32 I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:

33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest-

34 and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man. [a]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


James 3-5

In chapter three, James talks about, well, talk. Like many of the proverbs, he spends time talking about the power of the tongue, calling it "a world of evil among the parts of the body" for "it corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire...No man can tame the tongue." He then writes of wisdom, both that which comes from heaven, "all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere," and that which is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" and is represented by "bitter envy and selfish ambition."

In chapter four, he encourages the readers to submit themselves to God. He tells them both that they do not have what they want because they don't ask God, and that when they do ask, they "do not receive, because [they] ask with wrong motives." He tells them that they must "humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." He urges them not to slander one another, and not to judge the law, for "there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy." And he warns them not to boast of what will happen in the future, because, after all, "you do not even know what will happen are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

Chapter five starts with a warning to the rich because earthly riches cannot last. Particularly, those who have gotten rich immorally should beware "because of the misery that is coming upon you." He tells them that all must be patient in faith "until the Lord's coming," and repeats admonition not to swear, but to just say "yes" or "no." Finally, he urges them to prayer, in all conditions. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I think I already said this, but James is clearly a "works" guy, as opposed to a "faith" guy.
  • There's a lot of this epistle that just kind of "feels" like a section of proverbs. Yes, the form is a little bit different, but I don't detect much in the way of specific issues that he's addressing. There's some general wisdom, in little sections, and exhortations to be wise, control the tongue, and pray.
  • The end of the epistle is rather abrupt. I can understand someone removing a good-bye, I suppose, but it didn't really feel as if he had a message that he was conveying and he got to the end of it. It's as if he wrote out some thoughts that he had about the way Christians should be living and then decided to pass it around for everyone to see and share.

Proverbs 20:15-25

I commented the other day that it was not always easy to avoid the wicked. We get that admonition twice more in the first half of chapter 24.
Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble...Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.
The injunction from verse 17, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice," is probably even harder. Which of us hasn't felt it? And, more importantly, if our enemy is wicked, or evil, why should we not feel it? When the wicked stumble, is not justice being done? Don't we look at the consequence of sin and feel that God has taken a hand?

But when we do that, we overlook or forget or ignore our own sin. Which of us is really ready for, yearning for, God's justice over all of our actions?

This is not easy. But it is something that is not only here in the proverbs, it is something that Jesus told us. It's a struggle, a constant struggle. At least, it is for me. There are many sins I struggle with for which the struggle is, I'm certain, not shared by all. Likewise, there are some sins that are a mighty struggle for others to which I'm not at all tempted. But I really don't understand how someone could not be tempted by this one...

Proverbs 24

1 Do not envy wicked men,
do not desire their company;

2 for their hearts plot violence,
and their lips talk about making trouble.

3 By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;

4 through knowledge its rooms are filled
with rare and beautiful treasures.

5 A wise man has great power,
and a man of knowledge increases strength;

6 for waging war you need guidance,
and for victory many advisers.

7 Wisdom is too high for a fool;
in the assembly at the gate he has nothing to say.

8 He who plots evil
will be known as a schemer.

9 The schemes of folly are sin,
and men detest a mocker.

10 If you falter in times of trouble,
how small is your strength!

11 Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

12 If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

13 Eat honey, my son, for it is good;
honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.

14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul;
if you find it, there is a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

15 Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man's house,
do not raid his dwelling place;

16 for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again,
but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

17 Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,

18 or the LORD will see and disapprove
and turn his wrath away from him.

19 Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of the wicked,

20 for the evil man has no future hope,
and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

21 Fear the LORD and the king, my son,
and do not join with the rebellious,

22 for those two will send sudden destruction upon them,
and who knows what calamities they can bring?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


James 1-2

The Epistle of James opens with greeting "to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations." He then encourages "my brothers" to "consider it pure joy" whenever they face trials because "the testing of your faith develops perseverance." He tells them that the positions of both the poor and the "will fade away" and that "blessed is the man who perseveres under trial." He tells them that no one should ever say "God is tempting me," for each is tempted "by his own evil desire," but "every good and perfect gift is from above." Everyone should be "quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." It's not enough to "merely listen to the what it says." And anyone who does not "keep a tight rein on his tongue...his religion is worthless."

In chapter two, he tells the believers not to practice favoritism, using, as his example, a well dressed man and a "poor man in shabby clothes." "If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers." Because whichever part of the law you break, makes you a lawbreaker. And "judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful" because "mercy triumphs over judgment." In the rest of chapter two, he discusses the issue of faith vs. works (deeds). "What good is it," he asks, "if a man claims to have faith by has no deeds?" It is not enough to believe in the one God, because "even the demons believe that - and shudder." He describes Abraham's faithfulness as doing what God ordered when he bound Isaac - deeds, not faith. In the same way, Rahab is praised for her deeds, not her faith.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • The Epistle of James was almost certainly written by the James who was one of the leaders of the first Jerusalem council (Acts 15). Some Protestant tradition holds that he was a half-brother of Jesus, a son of Mary, while Catholic tradition holds that Mary had no other children so he was a different James, and maybe a cousin but not a brother.
  • Paul made it very clear, in his epistle to the Galatians, that he was on the faith side of the faith/works debate. James is on the works side. That's the focus of the second chapter.

Proverbs 23:19-35

There's some practical advice in this section, with several warnings about the dangers of over-indulging in wine. There's praise of wisdom and fidelity and condemnation of folly and sexual promiscuity. In other words, it's a lot like many other sections of proverbs.

19 Listen, my son, and be wise,
and keep your heart on the right path.

20 Do not join those who drink too much wine
or gorge themselves on meat,

21 for drunkards and gluttons become poor,
and drowsiness clothes them in rags.

22 Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.

23 Buy the truth and do not sell it;
get wisdom, discipline and understanding.

24 The father of a righteous man has great joy;
he who has a wise son delights in him.

25 May your father and mother be glad;
may she who gave you birth rejoice!

26 My son, give me your heart
and let your eyes keep to my ways,

27 for a prostitute is a deep pit
and a wayward wife is a narrow well.

28 Like a bandit she lies in wait,
and multiplies the unfaithful among men.

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

30 Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!

32 In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.

33 Your eyes will see strange sights
and your mind imagine confusing things.

34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.

35 "They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt!
They beat me, but I don't feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?"

Monday, April 12, 2010


Joshua 22-24

After having divided the land, in chapter 22 the Israelites and Joshua say good-bye to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who have taken their land on the east side of the Jordan. They had promised to participate in the conquest, and they had done so and returned home with Joshua's blessing, and admonition to keep the law of the LORD. As those tribes leave Israel, they stopped and "built an imposing altar there by the Jordan." When the rest of the Israelites heard this, they prepared to go to war against them. They sent Phinehas the priest to talk to them, along with a delegation of leaders for each remaining tribe, to ask how they could "break faith with the God of Israel...[and] turn away from the LORD." They responded that they hadn't built the altar out of rebellion and had no intention of using it for burnt offerings or sacrifices, but to act "as a witness between us and you and the generations that follow." So Phinehas and the others returned and praised God. "And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God."

In chapter 23, Joshua prepares "to go the way of all the earth," and calls the leaders of Israel together for farewells and admonitions, telling them to "obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left." Then, in chapter 24, he assemled "all the tribes of Israel at Shechem" and they renewed the covenant. Joshua recites for the Israelites the litany of the children of Abraham, how the LORD brought them out of bondages, how they wandered in the desert and how he had led them in the conquest and given them the promised land. He implores them to "fear the LORD and serve him with all fathfulness." He tells them they must choose who they will serve, but "as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." The people cried that they would also serve the LORD, and when Joshua warned that they would fail and he would not "forgive your rebellion and your sin," they still cried that they would serve the LORD, at which point Joshua said that they were witnesses against themselves, and they agreed. Then Joshua "drew up for them decrees and laws...and recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God." Joshua died at 110 years old and was buried in his inheritance at Timnath Serah, and Joseph's bones were buried at Shechem, and Eleazet diead and was buried at Gibeah.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I've read the story of the the altar ("A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God") a couple of times, and apparently it's either tougher to follow than it looks, or I'm even denser than I think I am, or I still haven't read it carefully enough, because I can't really explain what's happening there. I understand, I think, what the Israelites are upset about - they're inferring that the altar is going to be used for sacrifices where it shouldn't be, or possibly even to gods that are not the LORD. The logic behind the "witness," however, hasn't quite penetrated yet. I'll try again tomorrow, I think. For now, this is just another of the myriad passages that I don't quite get.
  • The passing of Joshua is a significant milestone in the history of the Israelites. For the first time since the LORD brought Moses to them to lead them out of Egypt, they do not have a prophet over all the tribes. There are ramifications to come.

Proverbs 23:1-18

"Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD." As is the case with so many of the proverbs, that's a lot easier said than done. We find it easy to be jealous of those who succumb to temptation, seeing only the pleasure of the temptation. We resent our consciences, and the rules that cause us to refrain from experiences which we would find physically pleasing. In the long run, I think, we can look back and be pleased that we've resisted, satisfied that we've done the right thing in God's eyes. Even that, though, can be little consolation, because we recognize how much and how often we've not done the right things.

Proverbs 23

1 When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you,

2 and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.

3 Do not crave his delicacies,
for that food is deceptive.

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
have the wisdom to show restraint.

5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

6 Do not eat the food of a stingy man,
do not crave his delicacies;

7 for he is the kind of man
who is always thinking about the cost.
"Eat and drink," he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.

8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten
and will have wasted your compliments.

9 Do not speak to a fool,
for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.

10 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
or encroach on the fields of the fatherless,

11 for their Defender is strong;
he will take up their case against you.

12 Apply your heart to instruction
and your ears to words of knowledge.

13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

14 Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death.

15 My son, if your heart is wise,
then my heart will be glad;

16 my inmost being will rejoice
when your lips speak what is right.

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners,
but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD.

18 There is surely a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Joshua 19-21

In chapter 19, they finish dividing up the land, apportioning areas and towns to Simeon (which actually was within the territory of Judah, which had more than they need), Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and Dan. Finally, Joshua was given Timnath Serah "in the hill country of Ephraim." In chapter 20, they set aside "Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah" as sanctuary cities, as well as "Bezer in the desert on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh" on the east side of the Jordan. And in chapter 21 they allotted cities and pastureland to the descendants of Levi, the Kohathites, Gershonites and Merarites. They gave them forty-eight towns in all, each with the pasturelands surrounding it.

"So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled."

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • I really don't have anything tonight. Virtually the entire passage consists of lists of towns given to the various tribes and sub-tribes.

Proverbs 22:17-29

For the first time in a long while, there's something that makes it seem as if this book is aimed at, intended for, someone specific.
Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge, teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?
Obviously, we've seen far more than thirty sayings, and there are far more than thirty left. Is there a specific reference here? A specific author and target reader?

Sayings of the Wise
17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach,

18 for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
and have all of them ready on your lips.

19 So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I teach you today, even you.

20 Have I not written thirty sayings for you,
sayings of counsel and knowledge,

21 teaching you true and reliable words,
so that you can give sound answers
to him who sent you?

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor
and do not crush the needy in court,

23 for the LORD will take up their case
and will plunder those who plunder them.

24 Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man,
do not associate with one easily angered,

25 or you may learn his ways
and get yourself ensnared.

26 Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge
or puts up security for debts;

27 if you lack the means to pay,
your very bed will be snatched from under you.

28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
set up by your forefathers.

29 Do you see a man skilled in his work?
He will serve before kings;
he will not serve before obscure men.