July 25 – August 1

Friday, July 25

Acts 21:1-14: Luke now carefully traces the stages of Paul’s journey southward, first noting his arrival at Cos that Sunday evening.  This island, dedicated to Asklepios, the god of healing, was perhaps special to the “beloved physician” as the homeland of Hippocrates, the father of Greek medicine, who sat under the famous plane tree and instructed his medical students in the art of healing.

Paul’s company arrives at Rhodes on Monday and at Patara on Tuesday. Leaving this coastline vessel, they embark on a sea-going ship on their way to the Phoenician city of Tyre, some four-hundred nautical miles to the southeast, sailing around Cyprus. Finding Christians at Tyre (cf. 15:3), they remain for a week. They then press on to Ptolemais, twenty-five miles to the south, and then Caesarea, forty miles further (or thirty-two miles if they went by land).

One nearly gains the impression that Luke is copying out notes from a journal that he maintained on the trip, and one of the general effects of this listing of ports is to heighten the suspense of Paul’s approach to Jerusalem. Even back at Miletus he had spoken of the prophetic warnings that he was receiving with respect to this trip to Jerusalem (20:23), warnings later repeated at Tyre (21:4). Here at Caesarea, however, such forebodings are intensified by the prophecies of Agabus, whom we met earlier in 11:27, and the daughters of Philip the deacon (21:8-11).

Finally, Luke’s attention to detail, with which he narrates each step of this journey, renders all the more remarkable the omission of Antioch. After both the first (14:25) and second (18:22) missionary journeys, Paul took care to report back to the church at Antioch, but on this occasion, and with only a hint of explanation (20:16), he does not do so. Clearly, Paul is looking elsewhere now; his eyes are on Rome, as he had recently suggested in a letter to that city (Romans 15:22-28).

Saturday, July 26

Acts 21:15-25: The day after his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul goes to pay his respects to James, the Lord’s “brother,” who appears to be the chief pastor of the church in that city and the leader of its presbyters. This impression is consonant with the early preserved lists of the bishops of the churches, where James is invariably listed as Jerusalem’s first bishop (along with Mark as Alexandria’s, Evodius as Antioch’s, Linus as Rome’s, and so on).

Unlike the earlier gathering at Jerusalem in Acts 15, this meeting does not mention the “apostles.” These latter have by now all left Jerusalem and have gone to preach the Gospel in other lands, some of which have preserved memories of earlier apostolic evangelization. There is evidence that the apostle Thomas preached in India, for example, Philip in Phrygia, Matthew in Syria and Ethiopia, and Andrew in Thrace. The apostle Peter had moved westward by this time, but the absence of his name from Paul’s letter to the Romans indicates that he had not yet reached the Empire’s capital, where he would, along with Paul, suffer martyrdom.

Meanwhile, at Jerusalem Paul’s report greatly heartens James and the presbyters (verses 19-20), but they express concern about certain misrepresentations of Paul being circulated among the Jewish Christians. Because of Paul’s frequent encounters with hostile Jews in various cities, he can hardly be surprised by such reports, and James is eager to put them to rest. Paul, desiring to be all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Romans 7:12), acquiesces in James’s suggestion for how to go about neutralizing the rumors current among the “tens of thousands” (myriads — verse 20) of Jewish Christians. This suggestion involves the rather elaborate public fulfillment of a Nazirite vow (verses 23-24; Numbers 6:1-21).

Sunday, July 27

Acts 21:26-34: On the next day Paul begins daily worship in the temple as the sponsor of the four men under vow, to provide the offering required on such occasions (verse 26). A week later he is recognized in the temple by some of the same Asian Jews with whom he has already had so many painful experiences (verse 27; 18:19; 20:19).

It is important to observe that the objections to Paul at Jerusalem do not come from the Jewish Christians living there, but from the Diaspora Jews, whose presence in Jerusalem is occasioned by the feast of Pentecost (20:6,16), a normal time for pilgrimage to the temple. On the streets of the city they had already recognized Trophimus, a Christian from Asia, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the purpose of transporting the collection of money for the poor (20:4; cf. also 2 Timothy 4:20). The Jews from Ephesus accuse Paul of introducing this Gentile into the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles.

The gravity of their accusation is indicated in the inscription, written in both Greek and Latin, which separated that court from the Court of Women (Josephus, Jewish War 5.5.2; Antiquities 15.11.5 [417]; cf. also Ephesians 2:14). That inscription, discovered by C. S. Clermont-Ganneau in 1871, says: “No foreigner [non-Jew] is to enter within the balustrade and the embankment that surrounds the sanctuary. If anyone is apprehended in the act, let him know that he must hold himself to blame for the penalty of death that will follow.”

After ejecting Paul from the temple, his accusers close the gates to prevent his seeking refuge therein (verse 30). Because such riots in the temple are by no means rare, particularly during pilgrimages, a Roman guard of a thousand men is stationed in the nearby Fortress Antonia, and news of the disturbance reaches the commander of this unit, Claudius Lysias (23:26), who promptly takes Paul into custody to prevent his being murdered. It was at this very place that an earlier crowd of Jews had insisted to Pilate, “Take Him away!” [Aire touton in Luke 23:18] with respect to Jesus, the same insistence now being made with respect to Paul [Aire auton in Acts 21:36].

Monday, July 28

1 Kings 18: Elijah was a robust sort of fellow, but this had been a very strenuous day. It began early that morning, when he met on Mount Carmel with King Ahab, two groups of the prophets of Baal totaling eight hundred and fifty, and an apparently large number of other Israelites. This ecumenical convention, which Elijah himself had suggested to the king, had a very practical purpose. After forty-two months without rain (James 5:17), a terrible drought lay on the land, and something simply had to be done about it. Elijah suggested a plan for putting an end to the problem, and Ahab was sufficiently desperate to try just about anything.

Elijah proposed that they choose two bulls to be offered in sacrifice, one by the prophets of Baal and one by himself. This recommendation met everyone’s approval. The prophets of Baal (with whom, it may be said, Elijah already had a somewhat strained relationship) should have suspected something sly was afoot, when they themselves were obliged to supply Elijah with a bull. He had not brought one.

However, for two reasons, these gentlemen were a bit overconfident. First, Baal was a storm god, who knew a thing or two about rain. Elijah’s Lord, on the other hand, had revealed Himself in the desert, where water was scarce. This God was presumed not know much about storms, atmospheric conditions, and that kind of thing. Second, the prophets of Baal enjoyed both royal patronage and the advantage of numbers. This would not be much of a contest, they were sure. Moreover, Elijah even agreed to let them go first.

It did not take the eight hundred and fifty very long to cut up their bull for sacrifice, and, while they were doing it, Elijah announced “no fire.” They would have to persuade Baal, who was a storm god, after all, to send down lightning to get the flames going. Strangely, no one objected.

They worked hard all morning, trying to draw Baal’s attention to the matter at hand, yelling out their prayers, jumping up and down on the altar, and making a general commotion. (Baalism, you understand, was a seeker-friendly religion.) Finally, they took knives and began to gash themselves (well, so much for seeker-friendly). Apparently somebody declared this had worked in the past. It was no go today, however.

Elijah appeared to enjoy the show, cheering the Baalists on to greater exertions, suggesting that Baal was perchance asleep, or having a conversation with some other god perhaps, or maybe was on a trip. Elijah encouraged them to yell louder.

Finally, when they were rather worn out by mid-afternoon, Elijah suddenly announced, “My turn!” He jumped up, constructed a rather impressive altar, and cut up the second bull on it. Then, he had twelve barrels of seawater dragged up the side of Mount Carmel and poured all over the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal thought this last maneuver was a bit show-offy.

From this point on, everything started to happen all at once. Elijah said a quick two-verse prayer, and abruptly, from a cloudless sky, there fell a bolt of fire that “consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water” (1 Kings 18:38).

The theological question of the day being thus settled, Elijah had the crowd round up the Baalist prophets, who were promptly marched down the northeast corner of Mount Carmel to the dry bed of the Kishon
River, where they were all put to death. Elijah was not a man of half-measures. He well knew that this was the very place where Barak’s army had defeated the forces of Sisera centuries before.

Elijah himself stayed on the mountain and gave himself to prayer. Notwithstanding that impressive bolt of lightning, after all, there was still no rain! He prayed seven times (three times had been enough to raise a dead person in the previous chapter), and then they saw the first cloud, “small as a man’s hand,” coming from over the sea. “Better head for home,” Elijah said to Ahab, while the sky grew black with clouds and wind. At this point, indeed, Elijah himself jumped up and ran out ahead of Ahab’s chariot. The mind’s eye may see him even now, this wild prophet with streaming hair, rushing through the thunder and the lightning bolts, running well ahead of the panicking, wide-eyed, panting, galloping horses, racing through the darkness and the rain, all those seventeen miles from Mount Carmel to Jezreel.

Recalling the scene a millennium later, St. James calmly remarked that Elijah “was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). I am grateful to James for making that point, because, to tell the truth, I think I might have missed it. James himself, I am prepared to believe, may have been of like nature with Elijah. As for anybody else I know, well, I am not so dead sure about it. (From P. H. Reardon, Christ in His Saints)

Tuesday, July 29

Psalm 61: Combining petition and confidence, Psalm 61 (Greek and Latin 60) is one of the simplest and easiest prayers of the entire Psalter.

“Hear my petition, O God,” we begin, “attend to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I called out to you, when my heart was anxious.” Already is introduced here the first part of a contrast between “far” and “near.” In anxiety of heart we cry out to God “from the ends of the earth,” but by the very act of doing so we then find ourselves saying: “I will abide in Your temple forever; I will be protected in the shadow of Your wings.”

The movement from “far” to “near,” which is the whole business of prayer, is a great deal more than a mere psychological experience. It has to do, rather, with the mystery of redemption: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). It is not a matter here of our “feeling far off.” Our feelings on the point are futile and unreliable. It is not a feeling but a fact that without Christ, we are far off, and the anxiety of heart, mentioned here as characteristic of our being far from God, is well founded: “At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

Now classical paganism did think of itself as hopeful. Even when Pandora opened the jar and released the many plagues that beset the human race, wrote Hesiod, “hope alone yet remained . . . by the will of Zeus the aegis-bearer.” This, said Pindar, is the “hope that principally governs the fickle mind of mortals,” and Aristophanes spoke of “the great hopes stirred within us by longing.” Rome had several temples dedicated to the goddess Hope, and its citizens celebrated her annual feast on August 1. As far as paganism could tell, there was every reason for continuing to hope. A certain healthy kind of hope, after all, is built into the very structure of the rational mind, and the saner sort of paganism, especially on the northern rim of the Mediterranean, paid that hope its proper heed.

Yet, in that text from Ephesians cited above, the Apostle Paul, unwilling to accept paganism’s own assessment of its expectations, described those outside of Christ as “having no hope.” Whatever classical paganism thought of itself, its prospects were really quite hopeless. Having been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” the Christian is keenly aware that such a drawing near is quite beyond his natural ability even to hope.

Our true hope is founded, then, not in the native aspirations of the human spirit but in the redemption wrought by the God to whom we say in our psalm: “For You have become my hope.” Our Christian hope is described as “a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:19), and of the man who has this hope our psalm says: “He will live forever in the presence of God.”

Our drawing near to God in prayer is based on His drawing near to us in Christ, who is the one place where God and man meet: “having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart” (Heb. 10:21, 22). No prayer goes to God except through Christ. It is Christ who gives both foundation and form to our “drawing near” to God, for “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1, 2). In Christ is “the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” (Heb. 6:18, 19).

Christ is the King, likewise, of whom this psalm says that He “will live forever in the presence of God.” Indeed, this King has entered once into the Holy of holies, now to make intercession on our behalf and “whose years,” our psalm says again, “will endure from generation to generation.”

In one of the more tender sentiments of the Psalter, this psalm tells God: “I will be protected in the shadow of Your wings.” This is indeed “the inheritance of those who fear Your name.” We finish on the resolve of praise: “So I will sing to Your name forever and ever, and pay my devotion day by day.” (From P. H. Reardon, Christ in the Psalms)

Wednesday, July 30

Acts 22:30—23:10: Luke does not tell us if Claudius Lysias interrogated Paul further, but it is reasonable to think that he did. He would not have learned from Paul, however, any solid information that would clarify the legal situation. The fortress commander thus finds himself in a dilemma. He has arrested a prisoner on the basis of no identifiable offense. This is all quite embarrassing. How would he ever explain this serious irregularity to the authorities at Caesarea when official inquiries were made? If, on the other hand, Claudius Lysias were simply to release Paul, he may be setting free a criminal, possibly a revolutionary and subversive. Caught in this conflict, Lysias determines to consult the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s highest governing spiritual authority.

Thus, Paul must now defend himself before the Sanhedrin, and he does this masterfully. Well aware of the major theological division of that body into Sadducees and Pharisees (verse 6), Paul goes to some lengths to identify himself with the latter party. Why, after all, is he being held as a prisoner? Is it not because of his affirmation of the resurrection from the dead? And is not the coming resurrection from the dead one of the major and characteristic features of Pharisaic belief?

By this insistence, therefore, Paul succeeds in dividing his opponents (verses 7-10), this time not among a rioting mob but within the highest and most dignified religious body in Judaism. Lysias, frustrated that he has no more reliable information than he had before, has Paul locked up again. That night, when the Lord speaks to strengthen His apostle, He sets in parallel Paul’s preaching in Jerusalem with his coming preaching in Rome. Paul’s journey to Rome has been decreed by God (dei, “it is necessary,” in verse 11), no matter what strange human circumstances may serve to bring it about.

Thursday, July 31

1 Kings 21: Naboth was a conservative. He could even be called a hopeless conservative, because he was also an anachronism. The moving times had passed him by, and his desperate cause was doomed from the start.

But even to speak of Naboth’s “cause” is probably misleading, for he was certainly no activist nor agitator, no reactionary nor leader of a movement. On the contrary, Naboth was a quiet, private man who wanted only to be left alone, free to grow his grapes on the little plot his fathers had planted for roughly three centuries.

There had been a time, and not so very long before, when Naboth’s modest aspirations represented an ideal. Even a century earlier, during the reign of Solomon (961–922 BC), it was said that “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25). Truth to tell, the Mosaic ordinance, taken literally, prescribed that no man’s farm, the land bequeathed by his father, should ever pass definitively out of the family. In due course, rather, those same inherited fields would be handed on to the next generation, so that household and real estate would remain forever inseparable (Leviticus 25:23; Numbers 36:7).

But by Naboth’s day the times had changed, and fewer folks felt tied so to their land. Indeed, in large measure Solomon himself, by introducing new mercantile enterprises and fiscal policies, had been responsible for the change. Thanks to the peace that David’s sword had brought to the region, international trade started to boom in the second half of the tenth century before Christ. By shrewd geopolitical maneuvers, Solomon joined the vast shipping interests of the Mediterranean to the extensive mercantile empire of Sheba, spread through the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and waters more exotic still.

As a consequence of these adventures, new and lucrative employment was to be had in Israel’s expanding cities, jobs much easier than the long hours and back-bending labor of the small family farm. Little wonder, then, that many Israelites began to adopt a less-than-literal understanding of the ancient rules about not letting their land be lost from the family. Attracted by the prospect of a brighter future in the city, working at any of the scores of new professions spawned by Solomon’s economic success, many citizens simply forfeited the inheritance of their fathers.

This rich economic development meant, of course, fewer farmers and larger farms. This adjustment created no immediate problems of labor, nonetheless, because the larger farms were more efficiently cultivated with tools made from a recently smelted metal called iron. Plowshare blades, axes, hoes, and scythes were sturdier than ever. Furthermore, farmers learned to seal the walls of their wells and cisterns with calcium oxide, thus preserving the precious water needed for irrigation. Food production increased enormously.

The enhanced nutrition not only lowered the infant mortality rate, it also led to earlier puberty and menarche, thus increasing the birth rate. The larger and healthier population provided the expanding work force needed for the economic boom. In short, as far as the bankers and financiers were concerned, the times were bright, and the future looked brighter. Seldom any more did one hear his elders talk of “the good old days” prior to this new, advanced era.

Not every man, however, fell into step with the march of progress, and a hundred years later there were still some stubborn, godly souls who, reading the Mosaic mandates rather close to the letter, maintained the homesteads very much as their forebears had done. Naboth, whose story is told in today’s Daily Chapter, was one of these dogged holdouts. When King Ahab, coveting Naboth’s vineyard in Jezreel, sought to buy or swap for it, he was met by the owner’s emphatic “No!”

Because Ahab’s queen was a ruthless woman, not scrupulous about such matters as suborned perjury and the shedding of blood, Naboth paid for his conservatism with the price of his life. Like his contemporary Elijah, this brave vine-grower stood defenseless but defiant before raw power and cruel injustice. This baffling Naboth’s hearty answer to Ahab (21:3) may serve as a battle cry for every true conservative: “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!”

Friday, August 1

Mark 11:1-11: We should begin our consideration of this story by recalling that the coming Messiah was expected to purge the Temple. Earlier suggestions of this idea include Isaiah 56:7, which is quoted by the Gospels as a prophecy fulfilled on this occasion: “Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, /And make them joyful in My house of prayer. /Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices /Will be accepted on My altar; /For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” In this text the Temple is “purged” in the sense of being rebuilt after its destruction by the defiling Babylonians.  Our Lord also indicates His fulfillment of prophecy on this occasion by justifying His action with a reference to Jeremiah 7:11: “‘Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ says the Lord.”

Perhaps even more to the purpose, however, were the words of Malachi, referring to the Messiah’s coming to the Temple in order to purge it: “‘Behold, I send My messenger, /And he will prepare the way before Me. /And the Lord, whom you seek, /Will suddenly come to His temple, /Even the Messenger of the covenant, /In whom you delight. /Behold, He is coming,’ /Says the Lord of hosts. /‘But who can endure the day of His coming? /And who can stand when He appears? /For He is like a refiner’s fire /And like launderers’ soap. /He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; /He will purify the sons of Levi, /And purge them as gold and silver, /That they may offer to the Lord /An offering in righteousness. /Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem /Will be pleasant to the Lord, /As in the days of old, /As in former years” (Malachi 3:1-4).  The context of this purging foreseen by Malachi was the sad state of Israel’s worship, to which he was witness (1:6-10,12-14).

The Temple’s expected “purging” by the Messiah had mainly to do with ritual and moral defilements, much as Judas Maccabaeus had cleansed from the Lord’s house after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This purging was completed with the Temple’s rededication on December 14, 164 B. C. (1 Maccabees 4:52).

As described in the New Testament, however, the “defilement” does not appear to have been so severe. It apparently consisted of the noise and distractions occasioned by the buying and selling of sacrificial animals necessary for the Temple’s ritual sacrifice. John describes the scene in greater detail: “And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables” (John 2:14-15).

To grasp this context we should bear in mind that the greater part of the people in the Temple during the major feasts (and all the Evangelists place this incident near Passover) came from great distances. Naturally they brought no sacrificial animals with them, reasonable expecting that local vendors on the scene would meet their needs. These vendors brought the necessary herds and kept them in the immediate vicinity of the Temple. Indeed, without their mercantile provision, the ritual sacrifices of the Temple would have been rendered impossible, and the activity associated with this arrangement was considered part of the normal business of the Temple, rather much as the sale of Bibles, prayer books, icons, and rosaries in the shops near St. Peter’s in Rome. The action of Jesus, then, was not directed against ritual and moral pollutions but against the normal business of the Temple.

Hence, what the Lord did in this respect was more symbolic than practical. There is no evidence that this action of Jesus amounted to more than a slight disturbance to the daily activity of the Temple, nor does Jesus seem to have persisted in it. He intended, rather, to enact a prophecy, much in line with sundry similar actions by the Old Testament prophets. Those who were witnesses to the event discerned this significance, recognizing it as a “Messianic sign.” This recognition explains the menacing reaction of the Lord’s enemies (Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47).