Sunday, October 24
Nehemiah 11: We have already seen the theological significance of the sort of census data that we have in this chapter. The present list comprises the names of those within the walls that have been constructed. They are the separated people, the “insiders,” symbolic of the identity of the holy nation.
All through these two books we have watched the outsiders trying to get inside, or at least to have access to the inside, exercising a sustained harassment of those inside. We saw the response of Zerubbabel, for instance, to the suggestion, in Ezra 4:1-3, that there be no distinction between insider and outsider, because he already knew the dangers of not insisting on that distinction.
Thus rebuffed, those outsiders have spent the rest of these two books trying to prevent the walls from being constructed. Those outsiders were the enemies of Jerusalem’s walls, attempting to keep Israel from being Israel. They perceived that the walls symbolized exclusiveness, and they resented being outsiders.
This is a curious phenomenon. Why, after all, should they care? If Israel wanted to be exclusive, why should that preference bother anybody else? In fact, nonetheless, Israel’s exclusiveness was resented. Israel’s claim to be a special and holy people, a claim that laid special moral responsibilities on Israel, was simply more than other people could endure, so Israel’s adversaries have spent much of these two books in a genuine, aggressive snit.
The one place where Israel was truly threatened, however, was not in its building programs, but in the construction of its families, the formation of its homes. Thus, intermarriage with outsiders, which so incensed both Ezra and Nehemiah, was the single path by which Israel could be most effectively led astray. These lists of Jewish families, therefore, are very pertinent to the general preoccupation and theme of these two books.
Monday, October 25
Nehemiah 12: This chapter, which begins with another genealogical list of priests and Levites (verses 1-26), indicates the importance that proper and verifiable “succession” enjoys in the biblical theology of institutional ministry (as distinct from prophetic ministry).
Next comes an account of the solemn dedication of the wall (verses 27-47) and all that the wall represented by way of the symbolisms we have been discussing. It is reasonable to understand the narrative’s return to first person singular in verse 31as an indication that we are once again dealing with the memoir of Nehemiah, on which so much of this book is based.
According to 2 Maccabees 1:18, the event narrated in this chapter took place, not in September, but in December, falling very close in the calendar, in fact, to the date of the Maccabees’ own purification of the temple, recorded in 1 Maccabees 4:60.
Both events — the dedication of the walls under Nehemiah in the fifth century and the purification of the temple under Judas Maccabaeus in the second century — are called “Hanukkah,” meaning inauguration or dedication (verse 27; John 4:22). (Only the latter event, however, was incorporated into the Jewish liturgical calendar and is celebrated by Jews each December even today.) Nehemiah saw to it that the walls were ritually circled by two simultaneous processions conducted on top of them, complete with trumpets. These trumpets, which celebrate the dedication of Jerusalem’s walls, are to be contrasted with the trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho.
Tuesday, October 26
Nehemiah 13: The dedication of the wall was the occasion for some more reading from the Torah, including the prescription found in Deuteronomy 23:4-5, which excludes the Ammonites and Moabites from the congregation of Israel (verse 1). As long as Nehemiah was around, such exclusions were taken seriously (verses 2-3).
However, when Nehemiah left to make a brief visit back to Babylon (verse 6), things turned for the worse. On his return to Jerusalem Nehemiah learned all sorts of unpleasant things. He learned, for instance, that a member of the priestly family had become the son-in-law of his old foe, Sanballat (verse 28)! In former days, when Sanballat tried to impede the construction of the wall, Nehemiah had been able to hold him off. Now, nonetheless, Sanballat was within the wall! What he had been unable to do by force of arms, Sanballat managed to accomplish by the simple means of marrying off a daughter to a priest.
This serious breach in Jerusalem’s spiritual wall once again put at peril Israel’s very existence as a holy nation, a people set apart. In addition, Nehemiah discovered that the high priest himself had provided lodging within the temple itself for one of those who had opposed Nehemiah’s very mission (verses 4-5). Other things had gotten out of hand, as well, such as the Sabbath observance, whether by Jews themselves or by pagans who came to sell their wares in the city (verses 15-22).
Nehemiah set himself to put everything straight again (verses 7-13). The major problem, however, continued to be the disposition of the people to intermarry with non-Jews (verses 23-27), in contravention to the Torah (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3). Nehemiah found it a really tough job to maintain those walls!
Wednesday, October 27
Luke 19:11-27: This parable, partly matched in Matthew 25:14-27, is more complex than its counterpart and more allegorical. It contains not only the theme of divine stewardship but also that of obtaining a kingdom.
The central figure in this parable in Luke is a man who makes a distant trip to procure a royal title. In its theological sense the story symbolizes the departure of Christ to heaven, whence He will someday return with this kingly title to assess the stewardship of His servants on earth. That is to say, “He will come again in glory to judge.”
Among the other allegorical elements in the account we note the future king’s rejection by his own people, along with his eventual rejection and punishment of them.
Many readers of this parable have observed that its details are strangely parallel to things that actually transpired in the career of Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great. At the death of the latter in 4 B.C., Archelaus journeyed to Rome to plead for the title and authority of his father from Caesar Augustus. A delegation of Jews also went to Rome for the purpose of making the opposite request (Josephus, Antiquities 17.11.1. §299-302).
It is difficult to assess the value of these interesting parallels. One is at least justified in pointing out, nonetheless, that whereas in the Lukan parable the man’s enemies fail to prevent his obtaining the kingdom, in the case of Archelaus the enemies were somewhat more successful. In this latter case Rome declined to give Archelaus the title of king. He was given authority as “tetrarch” (“one-quarter-king”) over Judea and Samaria (cf. Matthew 2:22), from which position he was deposed ten years later.
Thursday, October 28
Luke 19:28-40: The journey motif in Luke now arrives at its climax. Jesus enters Jerusalem, towards which His whole ministry, as narrated by Luke, has been tending by providential necessity.
As we have had occasion to reflect several times before, Luke’s story is dominated by the image of Jerusalem. It begins (1:9) and ends (24:52-53) and ends in Jerusalem (a feature that explains why Luke includes no appearances of the risen Jesus in Galilee, which are mentioned in all three of the other Gospels). Jesus has now arrived in that city where human redemption will be accomplished, the “redemption in Jerusalem” (2:38).
Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the east, from the Mount of Olives (verse 29). This is the mountain on which He will soon be tried in the garden(22:39) and from which He will, at the end of Luke, ascend into heaven (24:50). The climax of the Lukan journey motif, then, comes on a mountain.
At Bethany (from which He is pictured both as going into Jerusalem and going into heaven), which is on the east side of the Mount of Olives, Jesus is about two miles east of Jerusalem. The village of Bethphage is closer to the top of the Mount of Olives, 2673 feet above sea level.
The Lord chooses a donkey, not a destrier, for His entry into the Holy City (verse 30), signifying that He comes peacefully, not as a conqueror (cf. Genesis 49:11; 1 Kings 1:38; Zechariah 9:9). He is, after all, the rightful king of this city.
The chant with which He is accompanied (verse 38) comes from Psalm 118 (Greek and Latin 117), the last of the Hallel Psalms (113-118 [112-117]), which will soon be chanted in full near the end of the Passover Seder. Perhaps in consideration of his Gentile readers, Luke omits the word Hebrew word “Hosanna.”
Friday, October 29
Luke 19:41-44: The rejoicing hymnody of the previous verses suddenly turns to lamentation. In foretelling Jerusalem’s conquest by the Romans in the present verses, Jesus uses the language employed by the prophet Jeremiah when he foretold the earlier downfall of that city to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 6:6,13-14,17,21; 7:11). We recall that in Luke’s narrative this is the first time that Jesus has seen Jerusalem since His temptation in 4:9. All through His ministry, however, Jesus’ thought and intent have been directed to Jerusalem (Luke 9:31,51,53; 13:22,33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11,28). Now He “sees” it and weeps (verse 41). Since Luke does not often portray the emotions of Jesus, this detail is especially striking.
In verse 42 the underlying Semitic word for “peace,” shalom, is part of the root of the city’s own name Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 7:1-2).
The details of the siege in verse 43 are quite identical to the Romans’ treatment of Jerusalem just prior to its downfall. This fact, however, is not especially significant, inasmuch as all besieged cities are besieged in pretty much the same way, and Jerusalem had been besieged many times.
The reason given for Jerusalem’s coming destruction is identical with the reason given for the city’s earlier destruction at the hands of the Babylonians—namely, its failure to recognized the hour of the visitation of divine grace. The removal of one stone from atop another is a description of its “unbuilding” (cf. Haggai 2:15).
Saturday, October 30
Luke 19:45-48: In Luke’s narrative these verses describe Jesus’ first entry into the Temple since He was twelve years old (2:40-50). His purging of the Temple here is a partial fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in 2:34. It is also, of course, a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1-2.
Luke does not, like Mark, specify that this purging of the Temple took place on Monday. It is peculiar to Luke, however, that Jesus’ action prepares the Temple to become a place appropriate for His teaching, which follows immediately (verse 47).
The Temple’s purging is also related to its being a “house of prayer” (verse 46). This theme is especially prominent in Luke (cf. 1:8-11; 2:37; 18:10; 24:53).
In the ensuing days Jesus’ enemies endeavor to destroy Him, in evident reaction to the claims in His “take over” of the Temple for His own teaching ministry. The controversy here has to do entirely with the question of who has proper authority in the Temple. In Luke’s theology, Jesus in due course replaces the Temple, a theme that will be made explicit in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.
When Jesus drove the money changers from the temple, it was the most eschatological of actions. Jesus thereby affirmed that the temple really is a precinct separated from an “outside,” where are found “dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (Revelation 22:15). Thus, the Bible’s final book does not portray an afterlife of universal reconciliation, but an everlasting separation of wheat and chaff.