Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.
The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.
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Sunday, September 4
1 Peter 3:13-22: To be baptized into Christ is to be associated with His sufferings. As Christ was victorious over death by His Resurrection, so will be those who belong to Him. Baptism, because it united believers with the Resurrection of Christ, is a pledge and promise of their own victory over death.
In verses 18-22 Peter speaks of Christ's descent into hell, which took on so pronounced an emphasis in Christian faith and worship that it became an article in the Nicene Creed. Peter says that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us-baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
The relationship of Christian Baptism to the Flood and Noah's Ark, found here explicitly for the first time, became a common trope in Christian biblical exegesis:
“Righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the Deluge, that is, with his own wife, with his three sons, and with their three wives, all of them being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, whereon Christ appeared when He rose from thee dead, first in power forever. For Christ, being the firstborn of every creature, became again the head of another race regenerated my Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of Cross, even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode upon the waters with his family” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 138).
“Just as the waters of the Deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged-after the baptism of the world, so to speak-a dove became the herald announcing to thee earth the softening of the heavenly wrath, when she had been sent away out of the Ark, and had returned carrying the olive branch, a sign that even among the pagans signifies peace, so by the selfsame law of the heavenly dispensation, there flies to the earth-that is to say, our flesh-as it emerges from the font, having put away its old sins, the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent forth from heaven, where is the Church, typified Ark” (Tertullian, On Baptism 8).
Monday, September 5
1 Peter 4:1-11: Once gain the Apostle turns to the theme of Christ's sufferings (cf. 2:21-24; 3:18) in order to draw uot the pracgtic al implications of the Cross in the life of Christians (verse 1). Considering the Passion of Christ, believers are to arm themselves (hoplisasthe with “the same way thinking” (ennoian). That is to say, they are to take the remembrance of Christ's sufferings as the guide to their thoughts and sentiments.
The Apostle Paul taught the same thing: “Let this mind be in you (touto phroneite) which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
Such a one, first of all gives up the life of sin (verses 2-4). Otherwise he betrays the Cross, which paid the price of those sins. Similarly, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:2-6).
The Apostle John was just as clear on the subject: “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6).
Since our past lives, says Peter, have been wasted with the passions and interests of men, let us spend our remaining days serving the will of God, because whoever “has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
The life of the baptized person is turned away from the activities of yesterday. Peter spells out these activities lewdness, drinking sessions, and wild partying.
It is true that we gained friends amidst such activity in former times, but they are the very ones who will find our new way of life so puzzling and incomprehensible: “In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.” Peter takes it for granted that conversion to Christ will mean the end of some such friendships. The believer will have much less in common with his former drinking buddies. He won't like their lewd jokes any more, and perhaps they will no longer like him. In such situations, Peter sends us to the Cross.
Tuesday, September 6
1 Peter 4:12-19: Outside of the Acts of the Apostles, this section contains the only place in the New Testament where we find the word “Christian”: “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (verse 16).
Two observations may be made in regard to Peter's use of the term “Christian” here.
First, Peter himself had been active in the founding of the Church at Antioch, where this term was first used (Acts 11:26; Galatians 2:11). It was from Antiochian usage that he adopted the term.
Second, it is significant that this name “Christian,” first used by non-Christians to describe the new group at Antioch, tended to be used in the context of persecution, as is clearly the case here in 1 Peter (verses 14-16). This context is identical to that of the only other place where we find the word “Christian,” the trial of Paul before Agrippa (where it is also heard from the lips of a non-Christian: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuade me to become a Christian'” (Acts 26:28).
It is useful for Christians to bear in mind, when they call themselves by this name, that original context of enmity and even persecution. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the name was first used by those who actually hated Christians. Consequently, it should not surprise us if even today the word is used as an epithet of contempt, as is fairly often the case in the secular media and some political discourse.
At the same time, the impending judgment of God, says Peter, begins “at the house of God” (verse 17). This fact is important, because there abides the temptation for Christians to imagine that they will somehow be exempted (either by a rapture or in some other way) from God's final judgment on history. This is emphatically not the case. The Book of Revelation, which so vividly describes the final judgment of the world, begins with His judgment of the churches (chapters 2-3).
Wednesday, September 7
1 Peter 5:1-14: There are two things that may be noted about Christian humility.
First, the mutual humility that Christians are to cultivate with respect to one another is rooted in each person's humility before God. That is to say, to be properly humble to one another, it is necessary that each of us be humbled under the mighty hand of God. Our spirit humbled before God is the source of our proper relationship to one another. A person habitually humbled in God's presence is not a person who will be haughty or proud toward anyone else.
Second, the person who lives in this humble disposition will be without anxieties: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (verses 6-7). Pride, after all, is the source of many of our anxieties. We become anxious in large measure because we have some status to maintain or some image of ourselves to be advanced.
Only the truly humble person, therefore, can really cast all his anxieties on the Lord, because the Lord really does look out for the humble. The proud, on the contrary, are the objects of God's active resistance (verse 5). The proud cannot rely on the care of God, for the simple reason that God does not take care of the proud.
Humility and freedom from anxiety are two sides of the same coin, each necessary to the other. The habit of humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God is inseparable from casting all our anxieties on Him.
Thursday, September 8
Judges 10: The forms of idolatry listed here (verse 6) come from all around Israel: Canaanite, Syrian, Phoenician, Moabite, Ammonite, and Philistine. Israel's every border becomes an entrance for idolatry.
Such infidelities bring their own punishment. Having permitted themselves to be invaded spiritually, the people are soon attacked physically. The Philistines attack from one direction, the Ammonites from another (veerse 7).
These two invasions prepare for the next two judges-Jephthe against the Ammonites, Samson against the Philistines. The accounts of these two men are distinctly grotesque. Even the stories of their deliverance are somewhat oppressive. Jephthe and Samson are two really strange characters.
In God's response to the people (verses 11-12), he lists seven (the number of perfection) occasions when He delivered Israel in the past. That is, God has always been faithful. He has forgiven them seven times.
There is nothing automatic about the divine forgiveness. God is not a slot machine in which we simply put the right coin. God is not a computer where we may hit the right keys. God is personal, and He deals with man personally. When we offend Him by sin, is a personal offense, and God “takes it personally.” Offending God is not like neglecting to get an oil change. God does not respond to sin like a neglected engine. Sin always takes place within a personal relationship. It always has the quality of a personal insult.
And this is the reason why God relents once more, when the people put away their false gods. God forgives for His own compassion's sake.
Hitherto in Judges, when Israel was oppressed, the Lord raised up a hero to defend them. It was not up to the people to choose their own. All of Israel's champions so far were raised up by God. Now, however, the people go look for a deliverer, to whom they will offer the crown.
God will certainly pour out His Spirit on Jephthe, and the Epistle to the Hebrews (11:32) will list him among the heroes of faith, but God will not permit Jephthe to do things his own way. In particular, Jephthe will not be able to found the dynasty he intended.
It is worth remarking on the similarities between Jephthe and Remus, the brother associated with the origins of Rome. Both characters are illegitimate sons, outcast by their families, and both become leaders of impoverished, oppressed men. Neither man leaves a dynasty.
Jephthe has no home, no family, no specific city of either birth or burial. He has no past, and, as the story develops, he will have no future. Jephthe receives no inheritance, nor will he leave one. He is a tragic character, and the entire account of his deliverance is freighted with tragedy. Jephthe will make many mistakes, and all of them will be costly mistakes. His final mistake will deprive him of offspring.
In a way peculiar to himself, Jephthe represents the weakness of God, which is the Cross, but his story will also demonstrate that the weakness of God is stronger than men, as the foolishness of God is wiser than men. In all of this tragedy, in all of this darkness, Jephthe's faith is tried by fire, and this is exactly how the New Testament remembers him.
Friday, September 9
Judges 11: Jephthe is a mixed man. He is personally ambitious and clearly wants to be chief over Gilead. At the same time, he is a believer and a God-fearing man, as we see in his response to the Gileadites: “if . . . the Lord gives them before me.
God does, in fact, used mixed people to accomplish His purposes, Perhaps the Lord would have chosen someone better to defeat the Ammonites, but He too makes the best of what He has. This fact suggests that if God does not wait around for ideal conditions, neither should we.
Jephthe's first act (verses 12-13) demonstrates that he is really a man of peace. He appeals to the Ammonites in the hope averting war. His first thought is to avoid bloodshed if possible, so he seeks a discussion with the Ammonites. He is not a rash nor violent man.
Indeed, Jephthe's overture to the Ammonites may be taken as sort of foreshadowing of the Gospel of peace proclaimed to the Gentiles. It calls on the Ammonites to forsake the ways of war, to reconsider and repent of the paths of violence.
The Ammonite response, however, was to argtue back. They rehearsed their historical grievance as best they could remember it: "Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now, therefore, restore these lands peaceably" (verse 13). Perceiving a misunderstanding on their part, Jephthah went to some pains to spell out for the Ammonites several points on which his memory of the matter differed from theirs.
First, he said, Israel had always been careful to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbors east of the Jordan (verses 14-18).
Second, the land under dispute had not belonged to the Ammonites anyway, but to another group called the Amorites. Moreover, the territory in question had been seized from the Amorites when the latter attacked Israel, not the other way around (verses 19-23). In this reference to the ancient events narrated in Numbers 21:21-26, Jephthah also gently reminded the Ammonites that they themselves had formerly lived under Amorite rule, from which Israel had delivered them and restored them to their ancestral property (verse 24; cf. Numbers 21:29-30). With this they should be satisfied. For this they should be grateful.
Third, three hundred years had elapsed since all these things had happened (verse 26). Why had the matter never been brought up before?
The Ammonites, in short, were engaged in an exercise of historical revisionism, which consisted in treating old events with a new theory. Viewing history under the lens of a "fresh interpretation," the Ammonites concluded that three centuries earlier they had suffered an injustice that now needed to be set right. Thus, having lived in peace with Israel for three hundred years, they were now commencing a war for the purpose of correcting an alleged wrong from a time before even their grandparents were born.
It came to pass, of course, that the Ammonites failed in this endeavor. Their historical revisionism brought upon them only further suffering-indeed, "a very great slaughter" (verse 33).
Saturday, September 10
Judges 12: Jephthe is not the first Judge to have trouble with the Ephraemites (verses 1-7). We recall Gideon's earlier difficulties with them.
Here they threaten to burn down Jephthe's house, the very house from which he recently saw exit his now mourned daughter. This is the house that the Ephraemites threaten to burn down. This threat was not a proposition crafted to bring out the gentleman in Jephthe. It showed bad judgment.
It was also bad timing. Not having gone to battle before;, the Ephraemites are ready to fight after the fight is over. The Lord had given victory anyway, and the Ephraemites had not been part of the victory. Now they threaten the very man through whom the Lord gave the victory. They are the classical trouble-makers, itching for a fight after the fighting is done.
Ever the man peace, by preference, Jephthe endeavored to reason with these fools, as he had earlier attempted with the Ammonites. The Ephraemites, however, under the impulse of an irrational jealousy, refuse to act moderately or listen to reason.
The Jordan River, which divides the Ephraemites from most of Israel, is also the place of a linguistic divide, which will prove to make it, in the present context, a place of judgment. It is as a place of judgment that the Jordan River will later be the site of the preaching of John the Baptist.
Ephraem never learned its lesson. Never. Having resisted Gideon and Jephthe, it would later resist David and rebel against Solomon. The Lord would later use the Assyrian army, under Sargon II, to take care of the problem.
And then Jephthe dies (verses 8-15). Why does Holy Scripture tell us that he died? Obviously it is not something that we doubt, so why mention it? Indeed, of some of the Judges we know pre cious little more than the fact that they died, so why bother with saying so?
The reason is theological. Each of these men was a deliverer of his people. Yet each of them died. Their deliverance, therefore, was temporary. In each case, death got the last word. That is to say, death still ruled. The mortality brought into the world by Adam's offense still prevailed. Of not a single one of these men was it said that they rose again. In every instance, death was finally victorious over life. That is the real difference between the New Testament and the Old.
It is also the reason why burial sites are mentioned. Tombs are memorials. Men look upon them and are reminded of that supreme humiliation called death. This is why tombs are prominent in the Bible. They stand in eloquent testimony that something is very wrong in human life. Tombstones are the standing reminders of, the perpetual witnesses to, the fall of Adam. This is why, like the Ten Commandments, they are normally made of stone. They are stone because they testify to a hard fact, a fact you and lean on and it will not give way.
But tombstones are also witnesses to man's hope. Besides the past to which they refer, they point to the future and the Resurrection.
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