Sunday, August 25
Acts 9-26: Paul continues recounting his own history, not omitting his earlier persecutions of Christians, and then goes on to describe his conversion. This is the third and most elaborate account of that event in the Acts of the Apostles and the only version of the story to contain the detail about PaulŐs "kicking against the goad," a metaphor for resistance to divine grace. This detail insinuates that Paul had already been feeling the pangs of conscience for his grievous mistreatment of Christians. This verse suggests, then, that PaulŐs experience on the road to Damascus represented a sort of climax to a spiritual struggle already being waged in his own soul. In this experience Paul was "grabbed" by Christ (Philippians 3:12), and a radical destiny was laid upon him (1 Corinthians 9:15-18). Like Ezechiel (2:1-2), he is told to stand on his feet (verse 16). Indeed, this account of PaulŐs calling should be compared with the stories of the callings of several of the Old Testament prophets, chiefly Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, and Zechariah. What Paul is called to preach is the fulfillment of all that the prophets wrote. Thus, various prophetic themes appear in this account of his call. For example, the metaphor of the opening of the eyes from darkness to light (cf. Isaiah 42:7,16). Paul clearly regards his ministry as a completion of the work of Moses and the prophets (verse 22). When Paul mentions the resurrection, however, Festus believes that he has gone too far. PaulŐs excessive study of literature (polla grammata) Ń that is to say, the Bible Ń has caused his mind to snap, Festus asserts, so that he can no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy. In this response of Festus we discern the reaction of the pagan world to this most Christian of doctrines Ń the resurrection. Greco-Roman culture, with its chronic disrespect for the material world (as evidence, for example, in the pagan custom of cremating dead bodies), would have scanty respect for the doctrine of the resurrection, which takes so seriously the holiness inherent in the human body sanctified by the Holy Spirit. The situation is not so different today.
Sunday, August 25
Job 5: In EliphazŐs experience of the divine claims, on which his objections to the lament of Job are based, there has been a dominant emphasis on GodŐs utter purity and transcendence. Absolutely no created thing is pure in His sight, neither angels (4:18), nor men (4:19). A deep humility before God, therefore, is the only attitude appropriate to manŐs true state. It was precisely this attitude of humility that Eliphaz found to be missing in JobŐs lament. This lament, Eliphaz believes, was essentially selfish; it expressed only JobŐs subjective pain and dereliction. In the present chapter, therefore, Eliphaz becomes more severe in his criticism of Job, referring to him as a "fool" (5:2.3) and speaking of JobŐs perished children in an insensitive way (5:4). The proper attitude of suffering man should be, he argues, to "seek" God and to commit his cause to Him (5:8). Here Eliphaz touches a theme in the prophets (for instance, Amos 5:4,6), going on to describe God in terms of justice (Job 5:11-15) and benevolence (5:9,10,16). Eliphaz contends that, instead of complaining about God, even by implication, Job should be putting his trust in God (5:17), who delivers (5:19-20) and heals (5:18), even as He corrects and chastises. In verse 19, Eliphaz uses what is called a "number parable," very common in the BibleŐs Wisdom literature (cf. Proverbs 6:16-19; 30:15-31; Sirach 25:7-10). What should be said, then, of EliphazŐs argument against Job? Though it is too severe and personally insensitive, it is basically a sound case. Indeed, in GodŐs final word to Job near the end of the book, we will again find some of the themes met here in this discourse of Eliphaz. Moreover, in the final verses of this discourse (5:25-26), Eliphaz foretells, as it were, the blessings received by Job at the end of the story (42:12-17).
Monday, August 26
Acts 26:27Ń27:12: Faced by a pagan unfamiliar with belief in the resurrection, Paul turns to Agrippa for a more sympathetic hearing. However, when Paul, answering what seems to be something of a jest on the kingŐs part, invites him to become a Christian, the king becomes uncomfortable, and the hearing is abruptly ended. Festus, now confident that he can send Paul to Rome with precise instructions to the legal system there, hands him over to guards for the journey. This trip to Rome, which will fill the two final chapters of the book, is the point to which the literary tension of the Acts of the Apostles has been building. This is the journey that matches the Aeneid of Vergil, for Rome is the goal of both books. PaulŐs going to Rome is a matter of his destiny (cf. 19:21). Accordingly, LukeŐs inclusion of so many nautical details obliges the reader to slow down and savor the significance of the event. In this final voyage Paul will be accompanied by Aristarchus and Luke (verses 2-3), who had helped him bring the alms to Jerusalem over two years earlier (20:4,6), and who have been with him at Caesarea since that time (Colossians 4:10,14; Philemon 24). They board a ship whose home port is Adramyttium, just south of Troas, or Troy, from where Aeneas had set sail for Rome. LukeŐs inclusion of this detail is thus significant. Leaving Phoenicia, they cruise along the east and north sides of Cyprus, against strong head winds (verse 4), and then go north to Asia Minor. The ship is obviously returning to its home port. At the city of Myra, on the south coast of Asia Minor, they change to an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy; it was perhaps a grain cargo ship, so many of which brought wheat to Rome at a fraction of the cost of transporting grain overland to Rome from elsewhere in Italy. Still fighting contrary winds, they make their way to Salmone on the northeastern tip of Crete, a port well known to ancient navigators (cf. Strabo, Geography 10.3.20; Pliny, Natural History 4.58.71). The "Fair Havens" they reach on the south coast of Crete is still known by that name in Greek, Kali Limenes. In verse 9 Luke informs us that the Feast of the Atonement, or Yom Kippur, had already passed. If, as we are justified in suspecting, this was the year 59, then the Day of Atonement was October 5. That is to say, they were approaching the winter season when sailing on the Mediterranean was considered unsafe (November 11 to February 8 [Pliny] or March 10 [Josephus]). Phoenix, where they hope to winter, lies some forty miles further west on the south side of Crete (verse 12).
Monday, August 26
Job 6: Job now answers the first of his "comforters," not by a point-by-point refutation, but by a more detailed analysis of his own experience. Each of us tends to universalize or absolutize his religious experience, and Job believes that this is what Eliphaz has done. Basing his objections to Job solely on his own personal experience, he has failed to appreciate the unique dimensions of JobŐs suffering. Job says that he expected better of a friend. Eliphaz and the others know him well enough not to take him for the sinner they now take him to be. They have interpreted his sufferings as evidence of his sinful state, whereas they should be trying to see his affliction as Job himself sees it. They have not sufficiently weighed his grief, Job says (6:2), and now his comments will begin to take more direct aim at God. Eliphaz, after all, has set himself up as GodŐs spokesman, and JobŐs response will respect that arrangement. Eliphaz had called God "the Almighty" (Shaddai in 5:17), the divine title that is now taken up by Job (6:4,14). That is to say, the God that Job now addresses is specifically God as identified by Eliphaz. Job insists that his complaint is no more unreasonable than that of an animal denied its basic sustenance (6:5). He wishes that God would take away his life (6:8-10); he knows that he has not betrayed God, and we readers, who are familiar with the prologue of the book, know it too. Job has only the testimony of his own conscience; we readers have the testimony of God Himself. Thus, when Job reproaches his friends, we readers stand with him; like dried up streams, they have failed the parched traveler who looked to them with hope (6:14-20). Job has asked so little of them, nothing beyond their simple friendship (6:22-23). Instead of showing compassion for a suffering friend, however, Eliphaz has treated those sufferings chiefly as an occasion to rehearse the religious convictions born of his own limited experience.
Tuesday, August 27
Acts 27:13-26: When a light wind begins to blow westward, the shipŐs crew decides it is just what is needed to take the ship those forty miles west to Phoenix. They weigh anchor and proceed to do so, hugging the south coast of Crete. Not long after commencing this maneuver, however, the ship is hit by a "typhoon wind" (anemos typhonikos), a norŐeaster blowing down from over Crete and sending the ship out to sea in a southwesterly direction. There is nothing to do but let her ride the storm. Presently, some twenty-seven miles due south of Phoenix, the very port they had hoped to reach before the storm came, the ship runs under the lee of the island of Cauda (modern Gozzo). The reference to the shipŐs dinghy in verse 16 indicates the old custom of towing such craft in order to save deck space. They now take the dinghy on board, lest it become lost at sea. A momentary relief from the storm, as the ship sits under the lee of Cauda, enables the sailors to undergird the shipŐs hull with cables, to make the vesselŐs planking tighter against the waves. To impede the shipŐs wild movement in the storm, the kedge anchor is dropped, because the ship has been drifting south so fast that the crew fears running onto the reef shoals of the African coast at Syrtis (west of Cyrene; cf. Pliny, Natural History 5.4.27). To make the ship ride higher in the water and lower the chances of her being swamped, the crew jettisons some of the cargo (verse 18), and on the next day they do the same with the shipŐs rigging (verse 19). The situation is clearly desperate. With no way to see the stars, navigation has become impossible, and soon they have no idea where they are or in which direction they are headed. With no sunlight, even the most basic sense of direction would be lost. (Indeed, as we shall presently find the ship in the Adriatic Sea, quite a bit further north, it is clear that a radical wind change takes place during all this darkness and confusion.) Finally, Paul speaks up again. Though he foretells the loss of the ship, he reassures the crew and passengers of their survival. The reason for this certainty, he says, is his own destiny to arrive at Rome. Once again we touch here the theme of Rome as the goal of this entire story. It is a matter of destiny Ń dei Ń "it must be" (verses 24,26; cf. 19:21; 23:11).
Tuesday, August 27
Job 7: Job is no longer simply answering Eliphaz. This chapter consists, rather, of a new lament, a kind of soliloquy about the tragedies to which human existence is subject. Job likens it to three particularly miserable kinds of men: an unwilling military conscript who is in constant danger for reasons that do not interest nor concern him, a day laborer forced by his desperate circumstances to earn just enough to stay alive until he goes back to work the next day, and a slave. Human life is both hard and short, occasionally relieved by the shadows that give a slight reprieve from the oppressive heat (7:2). The very transitions between day and night, which in IsraelŐs traditional Wisdom literature provide a sense of stability and structure (cf. Psalms 104 :19-23), become in the mind of Job the source of enervating boredom, anxiety, and apathy (verses 3-4). He experiences already the corruption of death (verse 5). It is a life without hope (verses 6,16). He addresses God, asking that God will "remember" him (verse 7), for he knows that God sees him (verse 8). To die, however, as Job sees it, is to disappear even from the sight of God (verse 9-10); the finality of death is addressed several times in this book (7:21; 10:21; 14:10,12,18-22; 17:13-16). It represents, for the author of Job, the major preoccupation, and his hopeful quest for a life after death is one of the deepest and most moving aspects of the book (19:25-27). Job then begins to turn his lament into a prayer (7:11-21). His spiritual dilemma is that all these terrible things have befallen him, even though throughout his life he has known God as someone that loves him and whom he loves. Has God now become his enemy? Or will God return to search for him? And if God does come to look for him, will He arrive too late? Will Job be already dead and gone? (verses 8,21) For JobŐs friends, his sufferings raise the question of justice. For Job himself those sufferings raise the question of friendship. Observe how, in verse 18, Job ironically alters the sense of Psalms 8:5; the words that originally refer to manŐs grandeur have become, in the mouth of Job, a lament over manŐs degradation. Clearly the religious experience of Job by far transcends that of Eliphaz. Alas, his other friends will not rise even to the level of Eliphaz.
Wednesday, August 28
Acts 27:27-44: Still drifting in the darkness, the men on the ship do not know where they are or in which direction they are drifting. Still afraid of crashing in darkness on the shoals of Africa, they will only afterwards learn that the direction of the wind has unexpectedly shifted toward the north, driving them up to the southern reaches of the Adriatic Sea. The storm lasts two weeks. At midnight on the fourteenth day, still unable to see or navigate, they think they hear breakers pounding on a shore to the west and realize that they may be coming to land. This impression is confirmed when they take repeated soundings of their depth. Not knowing where they are, but fearing that the ship may crash onto rocks that they cannot see, some panicking sailors rather imprudently plot to escape in the shipŐs dinghy, which they lower off the bow. At PaulŐs warning, however, the centurion orders the boat cut loose to float away in the night. Meanwhile the crew, to prevent the shipŐs continuing progress toward the unknown land, drop four poop anchors from the to hold it back. The situation during the rest of the night is tense, and no one has eaten very much during the past two weeks of storm. Finally it begins to grow light, and Paul suggests that breakfast would be a capital idea. Accordingly, he says grace. Everyone takes heart and begins to eat. Afterwards they throw the rest of the shipŐs cargo overboard in order to make the ship ride higher in the waves as it approaches land. (That is to say, a lighter ship can be beached closer to the land.) They cut away the four anchors at the stern and endeavor, under foresail, to beach the ship on the shore of a bay. (This inlet, on the northeast coast of Malta, is still known locally as St. PaulŐs Bay.) The ship, once its bow runs aground on a spar, begins to break up from the violence of the pooping waves. They all scramble for shore as best they can, and everyone arrives safely. It has been a very rough two weeks, and no one is sad that it is over.
Wednesday, August 28
Job 8: To his second respondent, Bildad, who is even less tolerant than Eliphaz, JobŐs lament seems to be an attack on the justice of God and the entire moral order. Unlike Eliphaz, however, Bildad makes no argument on the basis of his own personal experience. He argues, rather, solely from the moral tradition, which he appears to understand in a nearly impersonal way. That is to say, the effects of sin follow automatically, as the inevitable effects of a sufficient cause. The presence of the effect, that is, imply the presence of the cause. If EliphazŐs argument had been too personal, bordering on the purely subjective, that of Bildad may be called too objective, bordering on the purely mechanical. In the mind of Bildad the principle of divine retributive justice functions nearly as a law of nature, or what the religions of India call the Law of Karma. Between Bildad and Job, therefore, there is even less of a meeting of minds than there was between Eliphaz and Job. We must remember, however, that Job himself has never raised the abstract question of the divine justice; he has shown no interest, so far, in the problems of theodicy. He has dealt only with his own problems, and his lament has been entirely personal, not theoretical. Bildad, moreover, does not demonstrate even the limited compassion of Eliphaz. We note, for example, his comments about JobŐs now perished children. In the light of JobŐs own concern for the moral well being of those children early in the book (1:5), there is an especially cruel irony in BildadŐs speculation on their moral state (8:4). Like Eliphaz, Bildad urges Job to repent (8:5-7), for such, he says, is the teaching of traditional morality (8:8-10). Clearly, Bildad is unfamiliar with the God worshipped by Job, the God portrayed in the opening chapters of the book. Bildad knows nothing of a personal God who puts man to the test through the trial of his faith. His is, on the contrary, a nearly mechanistic God who functions entirely as a moral arbiter of human behavior, not a God who shapes manŐs destiny through His personal interest and intervention. Nonetheless, in his comments about JobŐs final lot Bildad speaks with an unintended irony, because in fact JobŐs latter end will surpass his beginning (8:7), and "God will not cast away a perfect man" 9:20Ńtam; cf. 1:1,8; 2:3). On our first reading of the story, we do not know this yet, of course, because we do not know, on our first reading, how the story ends (for example 42:12). So many comments made by JobŐs friends, including these by Bildad, are full of ironic, nearly prophetic meaning, which will become clear only at the storyŐs end, so the reader does not perceive this meaning on his first trip through the book. As Edgar Allen Poe argued in his fine review of Bleak House by Charles Dickens, the truly great stories cannot be understood on a single reading, because the entire story must be known before the deeper significance of the individual episodes can become manifest. As Poe remarked, our first real reading of a great story is our second reading of it. This fact is preeminently true of the Book of Job.
Thursday, August 29
Acts 28:1-15: Arriving on Malta, perhaps in mid-November, Paul and his companions must winter there until sailing again becomes possible in the spring, three months later (28:11). The apostleŐs run-in with the snake, though regarded by the Maltese as miraculous, need not be interpreted that way. The Greek word here translated as "viper" (echidna) normally refers to non-poisonous snakes and is different from the word used in Mark 16:18. PaulŐs healing of PubliusŐs father, however, certainly is miraculous and leads to further healings on the island. When the time comes to depart, they once again sail an Alexandrian grain ship, which has wintered at Malta. Luke includes the detail that its prow is adorned with carved statues of Castor and Pollux, astral gods revered by the sailors who call upon them in times of storm. They sail to Syracuse, on the east coast of Sicily, where they remain three days while the crew unloads old cargo and takes on new. They then cross over to a port on the Calabrian coast, Rhegium (modern Reggio), on the very toe of the Italian boot. Taking advantage of a southerly wind, they then sail up to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) on the Bay of Naples, where they find a congregation of Christians. Some of these Christians immediately rush north to Rome, 125 miles away, to inform the Christians in the capital that Paul is on the way. The apostle and his company, meanwhile, spend a whole week at Puteoli, before continuing their journey overland. Eighty miles later they come to Appian Forum, and, ten miles further, to Three Taverns; in both places they are met by Christians who had been forewarned of PaulŐs coming by the Christians from Puteoli. They are all glad to see him, of course. They may be thinking of the letter that he wrote them three years earlier from Corinth.
Thursday, August 29
Job 9: If we find Job becoming increasingly despondent through the course of this book, let us bear in mind that he is responding to friends who prove themselves increasingly obtuse and insensitive. Bildad, in his objections to Job, was far worse than Eliphaz. JobŐs response to him follows the same threefold outline that we saw in his response to Eliphaz in Chapters 6-7. There is a direct response (9:2-24), a soliloquy (9:25Ń10:1), and an address to God (10:1-22). Ironically, in his direct response, which takes up most of this chapter, Job largely ignores the self-righteous ranting of Bildad. Indeed, we may be correct in surmising that Job had "tuned out" Bildad at some point and gone on to recall EliphazŐs earlier comment (4:17) about manŐs inability to be just in the sight of God. That remark posed for Job a problem he addresses in the present chapter. If GodŐs will is that which determines justice, and there is no other measure of justice to be consulted, how does a man of clean conscience deal with the problem of suffering? (This is, of course, the great problem of theodicy. JobŐs analysis of it, however, is not theoretical; he has too much personal pain for purely abstract thought.) If man is unable to perceive God as acting justly, must he not think of God as acting in anger? And, in the absence of any condign self-accusation in his conscience, how can man perceive GodŐs anger as just? Job knows that God is near, but he cannot discern the path that God is following (9:11). JobŐs impulse is not to answer God, but to supplicate Him (9:15). Is there no difference between GodŐs violent treatment of nature (9:4-5) and His violent treatment of man (9:17-18). Is GodŐs justice truly indistinguishable from His power (9:19). Is justice rational, or merely willful? Meanwhile, even as he ponders these deep questions, Job seems to be dying (9:25-26), and he fears dying without being reconciled to God (9:30-33).
Friday, August 30
Acts 28:16-31: Because he told them he was coming to see them (Romans 15:24), the Christians at Rome had had high hopes for his arrival. That was three years earlier, however, and those hopes had been lowered considerably by the rumor that Paul was languishing in prison in Caesarea (Acts 24:22). Because the events at Caesarea the previous autumn, culminating in PaulŐs to a higher court at Rome, had transpired so late in the year, precariously close to the winter when sea travel and communication were no longer undertaken, apparently no one in Rome had learned of those distant events. We do know that the Jews in Rome knew nothing about them (28:21), so they gain their first information on the matter three days after PaulŐs arrival in the city. He invites the local Jewish leaders to meet at his lodging, where he is under house arrest (28:16-17). It is significant to LukeŐs literary and theological purpose to record PaulŐs last rejection by the Jews Ń the last of so many that he has recounted Ń in that very city which is the capital of the Gentile world, the city towards which the dynamism of this narrative has been directed. Paul is at last in the capital of the Roman Empire, the city so closely tie his and PeterŐs destinies. It is precisely here that Paul declares to the unbelieving Jews that "this salvation has been sent to the Gentiles" (28:18).
Friday, August 30
Job 10: God must be different, Job reasons, from what his friends believe Him to be. If they have wrongly assessed Job, whom they see, how can they rightly assess God, whom they do not see? Job here attempts, then, various theories to elucidate the problem, only to reject all those theories. Is God cruel (verse 3), or deceived (verse 4), or short-sighted (verse 5)? No, Job answers. God knows that Job is innocent (verse 7). Having mentioned GodŐs "hand" in verse 7, Job goes on to meditate on GodŐs fashioning him by hand (verses 8-12), a moving text reminiscent of Psalms 139 (Greek 138):13-15. All this care did God take in this creation and preservation; is it all for naught? Does he himself value this "life and mercy," Job wonders, more than God does? Not a bit. God holds these things in His heart (verse 13). Feeling full of confusion at such thoughts, Job asks only that God look upon his sufferings (verse 15). Knowing that he is not a wicked man, Job is forced to think that God afflicts the just as well as the unjust, for reasons best known to Himself (verse 16-17). These reasons are also known, of course, to the bookŐs readers, who have the advantage of overhearing the conversations between God and Satan at the beginning of the book. At the end of this chapter, Job returns to the "Why?" of Chapter 3. In the last verse JobŐs "light as darkness" strikes a chord from Psalm 139 (Greek 138):11-12. The reader of the Book of Job enjoys a great interpretive advantage over the human characters in the story, obviously, because from the very beginning he has been aware of the true dynamics and direction of the story. Remembering that Job is being tried by a God who has great confidence in him, the reader is entirely on JobŐs side and hopes he will not fail the test. The reader also knows that the objections of JobŐs three friends are way wide of the mark. At the same time, especially as Job expresses his longings in these lengthy soliloquies, the reader becomes conscious of the deeper dimensions of this character, levels of soul perhaps more profound than what might have been expected of that observant doer of GodŐs will introduced in Chapter 1. God, of course, has known this all along; He was already thoroughly familiar with JobŐs heart. The reader is gradually given an insight into that heart, seeing dimensions that he might not have anticipated: JobŐs radical longing for God, his deep need for GodŐs approval. Though the verb is not used in the text, we are looking at a man that actually loves God.
Saturday, August 31
Job 11: We now come to the first speech of Zophar, JobŐs most strident critic, a man who appeals to neither personal religious experience (as did Eliphaz) nor inherited moral tradition (as did Bildad). He bases his criticism, rather, on his own theory of wisdom, a theory he treats as self-evidently true. Moreover, he seems to identify his own personal perception of wisdom as the wisdom of God Himself. Whereas Bildad had endeavored to defend the divine justice, Zophar tries to glorify this "divine" wisdom as applicable in JobŐs case. If it is difficult to see justice verified in JobŐs sufferings, however, it is even harder to see wisdom thus verified. Like the two earlier speakers, Zophar calls on Job to repent in order to regain the divine favor. (This is a rather common misunderstanding that claims, "If things arenŐt going well for you, you should go figure out how you have offended God, because He is obviously displeased with you.") Zophar even resorts to sarcasm. Although this particular rhetorical form is perfectly legitimate in some circumstances (and the prophets, beginning with Elijah, often use it), it becomes merely an instrument of cruelty when directed at someone who is in pain. In the present case, Job is suffering in an extreme way, pushed to the very limits of his endurance. It is such a one that Zophar has the vile temerity to call a "man full of talk" (11:2), a liar (11:3), a vain man (11:11:11-12), and wicked (11:14,20). The final two verses (19-20) contain an implied warning against the "death wish" to which Job has several times given voice. This very sentiment, Zophar says, stands as evidence of JobŐs wickedness. The author of the Book of Job surely understands this extended criticism by Zophar as an exercise in irony. Though the context of his speech proves the speaker insensitive and nearly irrational in his personal cruelty, there is an undeniable eloquence in his description of the divine wisdom (11:7-9) and his assertion of the moral quality of human existence (11:10-12). Moreover, those very rewards that he promises to Job in the event of his repentance (11:13-18) do, in fact, fall into JobŐs life at the end of the book. In this story, men are not divided into those who have wisdom and those who donŐt. While wisdom is ever present, no one in the story has a clear grasp of it. It will not stand manifest until God, near the end of the narrative, speaks for Himself. Even then He will not disclose to Job the particulars of His dealings with him throughout the story.
Sunday, August 18, Acts 23:12-24
During the night after his hearing before the Sanhedrin, Paul was visited by the Lord in a dream, in which he was encouraged by the explicit assurance that he would be going to Rome. Consequently, in spite of outward appearances, Paul knew that his life was not in danger for the moment (23:11). Such encouragement was exactly what he needed, for a new trouble arose on the next day. More than forty men, conspiring to murder him, vowed not to eat or drink until the deed was done (23:12-13). It is instructive to note that the plotters involved the Sadducees, the priestly party, in their conspiracy (23:14-15), but not the Pharisees. It was this latter group, we recall, that expressed sympathy for PaulŐs message. A plot involving so many people is hard to keep secret, and Paul, not confined by maximum security, was able to learn of it and, using the services of a nephew, to take steps against it (23:16-17). We are probably correct in suspecting that LukeŐs source for this account was the boy himself. About nine oŐclock that very night, Paul was moved out of the city under armed guard, Indeed, the large retinue included nearly half of the forces garrisoned at the Fortress Antonia. We are not told whether or not the frustrated plotters actually persevered in their vow of starvation!
Monday, August 19, Acts 23:25-35
A letter about Paul was sent to Antonius Felix, the well known and often cruel procurator of Judea from A.D.52 to 59/60 (cf. Suetonius, Life of Claudius 28; Tacitus, Histories 5.9; Josephus, Antiquities 20.7.1 [137-138]; 20.8.9 ; Jewish War 2.12.8 ). Claudius Lysias, in his letter to Felix, painted himself in the most favorable light. The whole matter, he explained as an obscure Jewish problem, and the Jews were to blame. Lysias, for his part, had done no more than rescue a Roman citizen from Jewish violence! The stress of the message was on PaulŐs innocence (23:29), a point that Luke will continue to make as the story progresses (cf. 25:18,25; 26:31; 28:18). When the retinue and its prisoner reached Antipatris, in largely Gentile territory, the large bulk of the force, no longer needed, returned to Jerusalem. The exact location of Antipatris is disputed, but it may have been the site of the modern Kulat Ras elŐAin, about twenty-five miles from Caesarea.
Tuesday, August 20, Acts 24:1-9
Paul now makes his defense before an official representative of the Roman government. To be his prosecutor, the Sanhedrin put forward a trained orator, Tertullus, who begins his argument by attempting to ingratiate Felix. It is shameless. When he credits FelixŐs administration with the blessings of peace (24:2), for instance, the statement is true only in the sense that Felix had rather ruthlessly suppressed rebel uprisings and acts of terrorism (cf. Josephus, Jewish War 2.13.2 ). Tertullus diplomatically passes over those activities of Felix which effectively fomented rebellion and terrorism, those displays of his administrationŐs rapacity and harshness that would in due course lead to the Jewish rebellion against Rome. Tertullus, aware of the attitude of Felix toward anything smacking of sedition, endeavors to portray Paul as a sort of revolutionary. The allegedly seditious party represented by Paul and here called the Nazarenes, is described as a "heresy" (24:5; cf. 24:14; 26:5; 28:22). This is hardly the first occasion on which Paul is portrayed as a trouble-maker (cf. 16:20; 17:6).
Note: For the next several days this web page will contain two Daily Biblical Reflections, in order to finish the Acts of the Apostles and to provide a study on the opening chapters of the Book of Job.
Wednesday, August 21, Acts 24:10-21
The opening sentence of PaulŐs rebuttal is an exercise in irony that may, without exaggeration, be paraphrased as follows: "Well, there you have it, your Honor, you already know what these Jews are like, so you surely are not impressed by these trumped up accusations." In the course of PaulŐs argument we learn that only twelve days have elapsed since his arrival in Jerusalem, a sum attained simply by the compound of seven (21:27) and five (24:1). Explaining that he has come to Jerusalem solely as a pilgrim ("to worship" in 21:11) and to bring aid for the poor (21:17), Paul makes three points by way of "defense" (apologoumai in 21:10): First, no witnesses have testified to the charges brought against him (24:12-13,19). Second, he is, and has always lived as, a loyal, religious Jew. This is a scoring point, which Paul emphasizes by mentioning the Law and prophets (24:14). Because the Sadducees do not accept the prophetic books of the Bible as canonical, Paul is appealing once again to the judgment of the Pharisees. Third, Paul shares in the hope of the resurrection of the dead, a standard doctrine taught by the Pharisees (24:15,21) and which he himself had proclaimed before the Sanhedrin. As in his earlier appearance before that body, Paul is endeavoring to draw attention to an internal doctrinal split among his accusers.
Wednesday, August 21, Job 1
Word-for-word, "A man there was, in the land of Uz," commences the narrative prologue (1:1Ń2:13) that precedes the lengthy and complicated dialogue which is the long central core of this book. This prologue contains six scenes: (1) an account of JobŐs life and prosperity in 1:1-5; (2) the first discussion in heaven in 1:6-12; (3) JobŐs loss of his children and possessions in 1:13-22; (4) the second discussion in heaven in 2:1-7; (5) JobŐs affliction of the flesh in 2:7-10; (6) the arrival of JobŐs three friends in 2:11-13. Chapter 1, then, contains the first three of these scenes. In the first scene Job is called a devout man who feared God, a man who "eschewed evil." He thus enjoyed the prosperity of IsraelŐs Wisdom literature promised to such folk. The second scene describes the first discussion between God and "the Satan," "the Adversary." This "accuser of the brethren, who accuses them day and night" (Revelation 12:9-10), was also known to the prophet Zephaniah (3:1-4). SatanŐs argument is simple and plausible: If a just man is so richly blest in his uprightness, who is to say that he is really so loyal to God? May it not be the case that the just man is simply taking good care of his own interest? Let him, then, be put to the test. In this discussion we may make note of three things: First, the trial of Job will be like that of Abraham, who also enjoyed the rich blessings of a just man. Second, God is an optimist, in the sense that He has great confidence in Job. Third, Satan is a skeptic and a cynic, persuaded that men act only for selfish motives. Satan has a rather low view of man; God has a high view of man. When God agrees to permit the testing of Job, the third scene describes JobŐs loss of his children and possessions. As the chapter ends, Job is still GodŐs loyal servant, justifying GodŐs assessment of him. Satan is wrong about Job.
Thursday, August 22, Acts 24:22Ń25:6
Felix hardly knows what to make of all this. Here are all these warring groups among the Jews Ń Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Herodians. And now this new group they call the Nazarenes. Who can make sense of it all? Who would want to adjudicate all these religious disputes? Feeling that he needs more concrete evidence about this Paul, Felix postpones a decision until Lysias should arrive at Caesarea to give testimony in the matter (24:22), and Paul, meanwhile, may continue to receive visitors freely while in custody. At least this is what Felix says. Since we hear nothing about Lysias ever coming to Caesarea, however, we begin to suspect that a certain amount of foot-dragging has commenced. In fact, hearing about this collection of money that Paul and his companion had recently brought to the Holy Land, Felix is hoping for a bribe (24:26), a detail in LukeŐs story that fits in very well with what we learn about Felix from other writers of the period. Two years pass (57-59/60), and Paul is still in prison. During this time he writes the epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Philemon. He receives many visitors, including Aristarchus, Tychicus, Mark, Jesus Justus, Demas, and Epaphras (Colossians 4:7-14). Luke the physician, who was in Jerusalem at the time of PaulŐs arrest, comes to Caesarea to look after his favorite client (cf. Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; Acts 27:2). At the end of the two years, Felix is succeeded by Portius Festus, who inherits Paul as a bit of unfinished business. This new procurator, a conscientious man chiefly remembered for his efforts to stamp out the terrorism prevalent in the Middle East during that time (cf. Josephus, Jewish War 2.14.1 [271-272]; Antiquities 2.8.9-10 [182,185]), must deal with Paul as the first chore of his two years in office (59-61/62). He does so in less than a fortnight. The authorities in Jerusalem, of course, want Paul to be tried there, all along planing that Paul would never reach the city for his trial. The times are treacherous.
Thursday, August 22, Job 2
Satan is endeavoring to provoke Job to "curse God" (1:11), the very sin that Job abhorred and which he had been afraid his children might commit (1:5). In the present chapter his own wife will tempt him in this way (2:9). The fourth, fifth and sixth scenes are the substance of this chapter. In the fourth scene Satan, disappointed at JobŐs response to the initial trials, wants to afflict Job in his very flesh, persuaded that this will bring out the worst in him; he predicts that Job, in such a case, will finally curse God (2:6). The reader discerns that God is actually taunting Satan here. Back in 1:9 Satan had asked if Job was a just man "for nothing" (higgam)meaning "without getting anything out of it." Now God throws this expression back in SatanŐs face in 2:3 Ń "you moved me to destroy him for nothing (higgam). That is to say, it was not Job that failed the test, but Satan. Satan now takes his cynicism to a new level. Believing that man is at root selfish, he wants Job put to the test in his own person, not simply in his family and possessions. JobŐs success so far, Satan believes, amounts to nothing more than experience of survival. So, he contends, let JobŐs survival be put at risk. Strip him down to his naked existence, without health or reputation. At that level, the cynic argues, Job will not fear God; he will curse God. God, ever the optimist, agrees to the trial, thus introducing the fifth scene, which describes JobŐs sufferings. These involve loathsome and unsightly infections that are often mentioned by Job in the later discourses. Treated like a leper, Job goes to sit on the city dump. He is apparently dying, and his wife tempts him to curse God before he does so. In short, JobŐs wife reacts very much as Satan predicted that Job would react. Indeed, we do perceive a change in Job at this point. If he does not curse God, he also does not explicitly bless God as he had done in his first affliction (1:21). Instead, he humbly submits to GodŐs will (2:10). In each case, nonetheless, GodŐs confidence in Job is vindicated. Stan has done his worst to Job, but Job has not succumbed. Satan disappears and is never again mentioned in the book. The rest of the story concerns only God and men. JobŐs three friends now show up to introduce the sixth scene, which directly prepares for the long dialogues that make up the bookŐs central section. A week of silence ensues (2:13), parallel to the week of revelry with which the book began (1:2,4).
Friday, August 23, Acts 25:7-22
The substance of PaulŐs defense (apologoumenou) in this section is that he has violated no law, whether of the Jewish religion or of the Roman Empire (25:8). His accusers, moreover, have not met their burden of proof (25:7). Festus, however, unwilling to offend the Jewish leadership so early in his administration, proposes a compromise: a trial at Jerusalem, over which the governor himself would preside (25:9). Paul will have none of this compromise. He already stands before an imperial court as a Roman citizen; why should he forego that privilege in order to expose himself to a Jewish lynch mob? Therefore, he appeals his case to Rome. It is worth noting, in verse 11, PaulŐs explicit recognition of the stateŐs proper authority to use the death penalty, the "right of the sword" (jus gladii), on certain classes of criminals. This position is identical to the one earlier espoused by Paul in Romans 13:1-4. Accordingly, the Christian Church, even when discouraging recourse to capital punishment in practice (in the Byzantine Empire, for instance), has always recognized, as a matter of clear principle, the stateŐs God-given, biblically affirmed authority to put certain criminals to death. The response of Festus, taken with counsel, accedes to PaulŐs legal appeal to a higher court (25:12). After this decision there follows another scene, PaulŐs somewhat unofficial hearing before King Agrippa II and his sister/mistress Berenice. The purpose of this hearing is to help Festus identify the charges for which Paul will be sent to Rome for trial. Thus, Paul, having been tried before a synagogue and a governor, will now appear before a king (cf. Luke 21:12).
Friday, August 23, Job 3
The Book of Job illustrates what we may call the BibleŐs "apocalyptic principle," the rule which asserts that something more is happening than seems to be happening. This important interpretive principle appears in various ways in Holy Scripture, from the "deep sleep" that the Lord casts on the sentinels of Saul (1 Samuel 26:12), to Assyria being used as the rod of GodŐs wrath (Isaiah 10:5), to the unwitting prophecy uttered by a blasphemous high priest (John 11:49-51). Except for God and Satan, none of the other dramatis personae in this story knows what is really happening, not even Job. In truth, especially not Job. Beginning with Chapter 3, the Book of Job switches from prose to poetry, the style that will be maintained until almost the end of the book. Job now breaks the week of silence, beginning his lament, which reminds us more of Jeremiah and some of the Psalms than of IsraelŐs Wisdom literature. Chapter 3 is, in fact, a prayer that is paralleled in several of the Psalms (such as 49, 73, and 139 [48, 72, 138]). It is simply a lamentation, much as the biblical book that bears that name. Like Elijah pursued by Jezabel, Job is weary of life. Like Jeremiah (20:14-18), Job curses (yeqahlel) the day he was born (cf. 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:3,8; Sirach 23:14). He does not, however, curse God. Still, Job has become impatient; he is beginning to experience even God as an enemy. JobŐs "let there be darkness" (verses 4-6) stands in opposition to GodŐs "let there be light" in Creation (Genesis 1:3). In verse 9 note the striking "eyelashes of the dawn," referring to the beams of light that radiate from the sun just before its rising. In verses 11-12 Job begins the great question "why?" that will fill so much of the book. This very question, which is heard so frequently from the lips of the psalmist, would in due course be given its definitive sanction by Christ our Lord (Mark 15:34). In verse 20 the "why?" becomes more intense and less rhetorical. TheodicyŐs major problem, how to reconcile innocent suffering with a just, merciful, and almighty God, is now introduced. It is this "why?" that JobŐs three friends will endeavor to answer. They, you see, have theories.
Saturday, August 24, Acts 25:23Ń26:8
There is a sense in which the present speech of Paul is the high point of LukeŐs account of his ministry. Containing the third narrative of PaulŐs conversion, it will represent the fulfillment of a prophecy contained in the first narrative (9:15), namely, he will now appear before a king. PaulŐs apologetics (apologeito in verse 1, apoplogeisthai in verse 2) in this speech is consonant with his legal defense hitherto, but he becomes more explicit about his faith and his conversion. Legally Paul has nothing to lose, for his appeal to a higher court at Rome has already been granted. He will use the present circumstances as an opportunity, rather, to bear witness to the Gospel, which he treats as the fulfillment of the hope he had always cherished as a loyal Pharisee (verse 5; cf. 24:5; 28:22). That is to say, the hope of the resurrection (verse 8). At this point Paul begins to move from apologetics to evangelism.
Saturday, August 24, Job 4
The first objection to JobŐs lament is also the most compassionate and polite. Still, Eliphaz has been shocked by JobŐs tone. Instead of asking God to renew His mercies in his life, Job curses his life. And since God the Creator is the source of that life, JobŐs lament hardly reflects well on God. This perverse attitude of Job, Eliphaz reasons, must be the source of the problem. JobŐs affliction, consequently, is not an inexplicable mystery, as Job has argued, but the result of JobŐs own attitude toward God. In sending these sufferings upon him, God is calling Job to repentance. If Job would but acknowledge his sins, he would be freed from his afflictions (cf. Psalms 32 :1-6). In arguing this way, Eliphaz is not relying solely on inherited moral theory. Among the three comforters, in fact, it is Eliphaz who appeals most confidently to his own religious experience. He has seen (4:8; 5:3) and heard (4:16) the presence of the divine claims in an experience of such subtlety that he calls it a "whisper" (shemets Ń 4:12). This deep sense of the divine absolute, born of EliphazŐs nocturnal experience, forced upon his mind a strong conviction of the divine purity and justice. This profound conviction in the soul of Eliphaz became the lens through which he interpreted the sundry problems of life, notably the problem of human suffering. Consequently, he is offended by what appears to be JobŐs presumption in raising his voice against his own existence. Indeed, the precarious nature of JobŐs present life, which was so pronounced a motif in his lament, should prompt him to be more cautious. After all, the life of Job, that life that he has just lamented in such bitter terms, will soon enough come to an end. He is a creature of clay and dust (4:19). The real tragedy is that Job may die without wisdom (4:21). In the dialogue between Job and Eliphaz one observes the confrontation of two different experiences of the divine. Eliphaz has experienced GodŐs presence. At the moment, Job is experiencing GodŐs absence.