July 27 – August 3, 2018

Friday, July 27

First Kings 14: The similarities between Samuel and Ahijah are truly striking. Both of them prophets from Shiloh, both were likewise appointed to designate new kings for Israel: Saul in the case of Samuel, Jeroboam in the case of Ahijah. Both of those kings, each of whom reigned roughly twenty years, proved to be failures. Finally, toward the end of their reigns, the same two prophets, both of them now quite old, were once again commissioned to announce the downfalls of the aforesaid kings and the impending changes of dynasty. Thus, Samuel prophesied the rise of David (1 Samuel 13:14), and Ahijah foretold the coming of Baasha (1 Kings 14:14).

Although the story of Samuel, because of its greater length and the richer detail in its telling, is doubtless the better known of the two, the account of Ahijah is no less dramatic and every bit as memorable.

Ahijah first appears on the biblical scene late in the reign of Solomon. By way of preparing for his appearance, Holy Scripture tells of the evils attendant on Solomon’s rule (11:1–9) and the external political enemies who rise to challenge his kingdom (11:14–25). It is at this point that the Bible introduces young Jeroboam, whom Solomon has appointed an overseer for the northern tribes. As Jeroboam leaves Jerusalem to undertake his new responsibilities, he is met by the Prophet Ahijah, who abruptly proceeds to tear his clothing into twelve parts. Having thereby gained his total attention, Ahijah explains to the young man that these twelve torn fragments represent Israel’s twelve tribes, and he goes on to prophesy that Jeroboam will govern ten of those tribes, leaving only two tribes for the dynasty of David (11:26–39). All of this prophecy is fulfilled in the events that immediately follow the death of Solomon (11:30—12:16).

We do not again hear of Ahijah for a long time, nor does the Bible give us reason to suppose that Jeroboam further consulted the prophet for advice in the governance of the realm. Unlike David, whose reign benefited from the prophetic counsel of Nathan, Jeroboam puts all thought of God behind him (14:9). On one occasion when he is accosted by an anonymous prophet from Judah, Jeroboam asks for the man’s prayers but pays no heed to his prophetic warning (13:1–9). Furthermore, if Jeroboam had conferred with the Prophet Ahijah, whom God sent to him in the first place, he likely would not have erected those two golden calves at Bethel and Dan, thereby doubling the ancient infidelity of Aaron. (Compare 12:28 with Exodus 32:4, 8).

No, Jeroboam does not place himself under the judgment and discipline of the prophetic word. He is one of those men who want God on their side, without taking care to be on God’s side. Craving the divine aid without the divine ordinance, Jeroboam will not consult Ahijah again for many years.

When he does so, it is because his son is sick, and he sends his wife to the prophet in hopes of obtaining a favorable word. Jeroboam sends her, moreover, in disguise, evidently too embarrassed to let Ahijah know who it is that seeks that word. The prophet himself, by this time, has grown very old, and his sight is failing.

Foolish Jeroboam, thinking to deceive the prophetic vision! Ahijah had been able to read the signs of the times during the reign of Solomon, but Jeroboam now fancies he can deceive the old seer with such a clumsy ruse. Inwardly guided by the Almighty, Ahijah reads the situation perfectly, and the Lord himself dictates “thus and thus” what he is to say.

Saturday, July 28

First Kings 15: Asa (913–873 BC) was Judah’s initial “reform” king, in this respect a forerunner to Hezekiah and Josiah. He was the first of those very few kings of whom it was said that he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did his father David” (1 Kings 15:11).

When Asa came to the throne as David’s fourth successor, the realm was not doing very well. During the reign of Asa’s grandfather, Rehoboam, Judah’s financial state had been greatly weakened by incessant war with the Northern Kingdom (15:6) and by an invasion from Egypt (14:25–26). Hardly better was the nation’s spiritual state, for idolatry and gross immorality were rife (14:22–23). Rehoboam was followed on the throne by Asa’s father, Abijah, but the latter, too, “walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him” (15:3).

These problems seem not to have daunted the young Asa, who cleaned up Judah’s idolatry and immorality with such dispatch and efficiency that 1 Kings can account for the work in a single verse (15:12).

Although the longer description of Asa’s reign in 1 Chronicles 14—16 describes in greater detail some of the more serious problems he encountered, there is reason to believe that Asa’s greatest single headache came from his . . . grandmother!

Had Asa’s accession to the throne followed traditional policy on the point, this grandmother, known to history as Maachah the Younger, would have retired to spend her remaining days rocking and knitting in some quiet corner of the palace, occasionally stopping to dandle a grandchild or take some cookies from the oven. Her role as queen mother, or gebirah, would have been assumed by Asa’s own mother.

As it happened, however, the old lady did not step down, and evidently, on the day that Asa took the throne, no one in the realm was sufficiently powerful to make her step down, not even the new king.

Maachah doubtless enjoyed occupying what was a very powerful position in ancient courts. Since royal sons were hardly disposed to decline reasonable requests from their mothers (cf. 1 Kings 2:17), it was no small advantage for other members of the court to cultivate the favor of the gebirah. Her special place in the realm is further indicated by the fact that the Books of Kings normally list the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah.

The case of Maachah demonstrates that an especially shrewd gebirah, were she also unscrupulous, might manage to maintain her position at court even after the death of her son. A woman so powerful, after all, was able to put quite a number of people in her debt over the years—influential and well-placed individuals on whom she might rely later on to keep her in power. The Bible’s truly singular example of this was Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, who actually usurped the realm itself during the years 842–837 BC (2 Kings 11).

Maachah herself never went so far, but she did manage to hold on to her privileged position at court after the accession of Asa (1 Kings 15:10). She had been around for quite a while and was well acquainted with the ways of power. Named for her grandmother, Maacah the Elder, a Geshurite princess married to David (2 Samuel 3:3), this younger Maachah was a daughter of Absalom. She was still a child during the three years that she spent with her father in his exile in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:38). Doubtless it was there that she first learned the ways of idolatry.

For Maachah was most certainly an idolatress. Raised in the easygoing atmosphere of her Uncle Solomon’s court after the death of her own father, she further learned the lessons of idolatry along with the habits of political power. Given in marriage to her cousin Rehoboam, who would eventually succeed Solomon on the throne, Maachah knew that someday, when her son Abijah became king, she would become the gebirah. She longed for the day.

That day, when it came, did not last very long, for Abijah reigned only three years. No matter, for the determined Maachah somehow found the means to stay in power for a while longer. Except for her idolatry, Asa might have left her in place for good. But the king, as his position grew stronger, was in a reforming mood, and Maachah stood in the way of his reforms. “You know, Granny,” he finally said to her one day, “it’s about time for you to take up knitting” (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16).

Sunday, July 29

First Kings 16: The Northern Kingdom, protected by no divine covenant, quickly becomes the possession of whoever gains sufficient political advantage. In this chapter we are introduced to several northern kings, including Elah (886-885), Zimri (one week in 885), and Omri (885-874, with a co-regency with Ahab from 881). The entire period of these kings is contemporary with the reign of just one king in the south, Asa (911-870, with co-regency with Jehoshaphat from 873).

Also introduced is King Ahab, about whom we will learn a good deal in the next few chapters. His reign in the north (874-853) is roughly contemporary with that of King Jehoshaphat in the south (873 to 848, with co-regency with Jehoram from 853). A study of the reign of Jehoshaphat provides useful insight into the wider political, social, and religious developments of this period.

Although the Prophet Eliezer leveled a half-verse of criticism against Jehoshaphat near the end of the king’s life (2 Chronicles 20:37), the Bible is, on the whole, rather positive in its assessment of that king of Judah. An earlier historian of the period summed it up: “And [Jehoshaphat] walked in all the ways of his father Asa. He did not turn aside from them, doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings 22:43).

Still, it is instructive to examine some unforeseen results of certain practical choices made by Jehoshaphat during the course of his admittedly virtuous life, because those unintended consequences bear witness to the human condition of sinful helplessness, our native inability to accomplish the good we will (cf. Romans 7:15–19). However pure his intentions, it is a fact that some terrible things came to pass by reason of Jehoshaphat’s political decisions. Indeed, they nearly led to the downfall of the house of David.

When he took his place on the throne of Judah in 873, Jehoshaphat resolved that there would be no more fighting with the kingdom of Israel. As much as anyone, he was sick of the strife that had ravaged the Promised Land for half a century, ever since the division of the region into two kingdoms at the death of Solomon in 922. The reign of Jehoshaphat’s own father, Asa, had been particularly bellicose. “Now there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days,” wrote that same historian of the period (1 Kings 15:16, 32).

Naturally, so much warfare exacted a heavy toll from Judah, in loss of life, disruption of families, devastated crops, impaired commerce, and swollen taxation, leading to a general weakening of the economy and the social order. None of this fighting, furthermore, had accomplished much. Since the only sane reason for a nation to wage a war is to decide something, hardly any national experience is so disheartening as an indecisive war, and Judah, by this time, was very disheartened.

The ensuing damage to the social edifice was even more severe in the kingdom of Israel, or at least we may infer so from its greater political disquiet. Israel, in addition to fighting with Judah, had been afflicted with civil unrest and dynastic strife. Whereas Jehoshaphat was Judah’s fourth king after Solomon, Israel had had as many dynasties during that same period (15:25—16:23)! Surely, then, Israel too might appreciate some relief from conflict.

Two other recent political changes likewise hinted that the time for peacemaking had arrived. First, barely four years before Jehoshaphat became king of Judah, Israel had crowned a new king whose name was Ahab. This new man, Jehoshaphat could see, was chiefly interested in making money by commercial ties with Phoenicia. Indeed, Ahab had married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel and had served as a mercantile partner of his father-in-law, Ethbaal of Sidon. Ahab would have no interest in continuing the old fight with Judah.

Second, a much larger menace now loomed darkly in the east, where the shadowy Assyrian began to feel the movement of his might. Before long the warring Shalmaneser III (859–824 BC) would start his march to the Great Sea, and if the little nations lying along the path of that trampling march, like Israel and Judah, were to meet his threat, they had better resolve their smaller problems.

Sizing up the entire geopolitical situation, therefore, “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (22:44). In fact, Jehoshaphat went a very significant step further to seal that peace by arranging the marriage of his own son Jehoram, the crown prince, to Princess Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. The two crown houses thus became, as it were, a single family, so that Jehoshaphat could say to Ahab, some years later, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (22:4).

Hardly could Jehoshaphat have known to what bad consequences his best intentions would lead. Within three years both his son and his son’s son would be dead, and Athaliah, now queen in her own right, would nearly destroy the house of David (2 Kings 11:1). In fact, until the fall of Jerusalem nearly three centuries later, Judah never saw a darker hour. And all this from one good man’s untimely decisions! Such is the power of evil in man’s fallen history.

Monday, July 30

First Kings 17: Although the institution of the northern throne, unlike the Davidic throne, is blessed by no covenant, God does not forsake His people in the north. As we see throughout these chapters, He continues to bless them through the non-institutional ministry of the prophets, several of whom are anonymously mentioned in the story of the Northern Kingdom. Of those who are named, special attention is given to Elijah, Micaiah, and Elisha. In First Kings, the dominant prophetic person is Elijah the Tishbite, who is introduced in the present chapter.

These next three chapters are united around the theme of the drought that took place during the reign of Ahab. It was invoked by the Prophet Elijah as a divine punishment against the infidelity of the Northern Kingdom, chiefly through its compromising alliance with the Phoenicians and their god, Baal.

We observe that Elijah, rather like John the Baptist in the Gospel accounts, receives no adequate introduction in the narrative. We find him shouting as soon as he appears. Elijah appreciates the irony of this punitive drought; the people have forsaken the Lord and given themselves over to this Phoenician-Canaanite divinity, Baal, who is a rain god. Now, as a result of this new adherence, the rain suddenly stops for three and a half years. And Baal is powerless to do anything about it! The ensuing famine also hits Phoenicia (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 8.13.2).

When the crisis of the drought is resolved, at last, it will be resolved in a very dramatic way. It will not simply start raining again. It will start raining only after Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a sensational “rain match” in chapter 18. When Elijah is on the scene, there is never a boring moment.

Meanwhile, for the next forty-two months, everybody suffers the drought, including Elijah himself, who finds a bit of water in small Wadi Cherith and is fed daily by two ravens that bring him meat and bread. We have here a clear parallel with the manna eaten by the Israelites in the desert during the time of Moses. Elijah is certainly aware of this parallel. His mental association with Moses is so sharply a feature of his identity that we will find him, in just a few chapters, standing before the Lord on the very mountain where Moses received the Torah.

When the wadi dries up, Elijah must seek other arrangements. As he travels in search of sustenance, he comes to the village of Zarephath, on the Phoenician coast, south of Sidon. Here he meets a widow—clearly a pagan —with a son, whose resources have been reduced to their single meal. Elijah requests the gift of that meal, and the compassionate widow gives it to him. From that instant on, the woman and her son are miraculously provided with food until the end of the drought. Here there is a parallel with the earlier experience of Elijah himself, who was daily fed by the ravens.

When the widow’s son dies, Elijah’s prayer brings about his resuscitation. Jesus, in his first sermon in Luke’s Gospel, refers to this woman (cf. Luke 4:25-26). There is also a parallel with the widow who gave her last bit of resources to the Lord in the Gospel story (cf. Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4).

Tuesday, July 31

First Kings 18: Elijah was a robust sort of fellow, but this had been a very strenuous day. It had begun 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 (1 Kings 18).

This ecumenical convention, which Elijah had himself 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 with 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 and hygrometers were rarely used. Elijah’s Lord, the Baal-people figured, could not be expected to know much about storms, atmospheric conditions, low-pressure systems, barometric readings, relative humidity, cloud density, anemometers, and that kind of thing.

Second, the prophets of Baal enjoyed both royal patronage and the advantage of numbers. This encounter 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.” His devotees 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 (Baalism, you understand, was a seeker-friendly religion), and making a general commotion. Finally, they took knives and began to gash themselves (well, so much for seeker-friendly). 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 conversing 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. Next, 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 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 Baalists, 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 that James made 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 sure about it.

Wednesday, August 1

First Kings 19: In the Books of Kings it is not difficult to perceive the ways in which the prophets Elijah and Elisha resemble the great Moses. Indeed, emphasizing that resemblance pertained very much to the author’s purpose, for he had in mind to portray them both as Moses’ latter-day successors, each providing some measure of fulfillment to Moses’ own prophecy that he would be succeeded by a prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15–18). This perspective is likewise part of the Bible’s more general care to regard the prophetic corpus as the proper sequence to the Law. In fact, the expression “the Law and the Prophets” is sometimes employed to mean simply the whole Hebrew Bible.

In due course we shall explore the ways in which Elisha (introduced in the present chapter) resembles Moses. For now, let us limit our consideration to Elijah, who resembles Moses in several particulars of his story: a miraculous provision of meat and bread in the wilderness (1 Kings 17:4–7), a fast of forty days while journeying through the desert on the strength of miraculously provided bread and water (19:4–8), and, in the present chapter, an encounter with the Lord on Mount Horeb, complete with all the sounds and sights associated with Moses’ own experience in that place. Elijah receives his prophecies on the very mountain where Moses received the Law. Like Moses too, Elijah covers his face in response to his mountaintop experience (19:9–13). Then, when the time comes for Elijah to leave this life, he repeats Moses’ act of parting the waters and then disappears east of the Jordan, where Moses disappeared (2 Kings 2:8–18).

As the present chapter begins, Elijah is afraid, this same Elijah who acted so fearlessly in the preceding story. He flees the vengeance and wrath of Jezebel, whose prophets he slew after the episode on Mount Carmel. Elijah is also very tired from the exertions of the previous day, to say nothing of the ordeals associated with the long drought and famine. As he flees southward, he comes to Beersheba, at the southern boundary of Judah. Even for northerners this city is a popular site of pilgrimage (cf. Amos 5:5; 8:14). Here he leaves his servant, for Elijah has in mind to go much further south.

He proceeds another day into the Judean desert and sits under a tree, feeling very discouraged. In this respect Elijah resembles two earlier discouraged travelers in the desert, Moses and David. Totally distressed, he falls asleep from the heat and great fatigue. Twice an angel from the Lord feeds him with bread and water in the wilderness. Strengthened by these modest meals, he travels another 40 days—reminiscent of Moses’ forty years in the wilderness—until he comes to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where the Lord entered into covenant with Israel. He climbs the mountain to the place where Moses met the Lord, amid earthquake, fire, and whirlwind. Elijah’s own revelation from the Lord, however, takes place in a still small voice.

The prophet is warned about the dangers of isolation and self-pity. He is instructed to go back down the mountain and make contact with some of the seven thousand of the Lord’s loyal servants. Elijah must stop all this I-alone-am-left nonsense. There is still work to do. First, he must anoint two new kings, Hazael over Syria and Jehu over Israel. We take note that the Lord has a covenant with neither of these men, but He does choose them.

Finally, Elijah is to anoint Elisha to be his own replacement in the prophetic ministry.

Thursday, August 2

First Kings 20: This chapter starts with a Syrian siege of Samaria (verses 1-6). The fortress at Samaria, constructed during the reigns of Omri and Ahab, was almost impregnable; when it later fell to the Assyrians in 722, the latter force needed siege machines and three years to accomplish the task.

In response to the demands of the besiegers, King Ahab takes counsel of the tribal elders, who have taken refuge within the fortress. These encourage the king to resist boldly.

What happens next may surprise the reader, who knows that the Lord has already rejected Ahab (cf. 19:16). In spite of this rejection, the king still receives positive prophetic messages from the Lord (verses 13,28). That is to say, in spite of Israel’s schism from the covenanted throne at Jerusalem, in spite of the people’s continued infidelities, and in spite of the apostasy of Ahab, the Lord sustains His faithfulness.

This divine fidelity to the people of the Northern Kingdom—the schismatic kingdom—is of a piece with the material in the surrounding chapters, particularly the ministry of Elijah. The lesson drawn from this entire account indicates that the God of the Covenant does not suddenly lose interest in His people when a schism occurs. This lesson should be a source of comfort and strength to all Christians today, who are heirs to the many schisms which have divided them over the centuries; when schisms occur among the people of God, God is certainly displeased, but this in no way implies that redeeming grace is limited to just one side of a schismatic situation. Throughout the Book of Kings, we see grace poured out in both the south and the north, notwithstanding the schism between them.

Ahab, encouraged by the counsel of the elders and the word of the prophet, makes a very successful sortie against the Syrians, who have let their guard down—“Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in the encampment.” The armies of Syria’s vassal states panic, and the rest of the Syrian army retreats, but Ahab is warned that they will try again (verses 16-22).

The do try again in the spring, this time east of the Sea of Galilee, on the road joining Israel with Damascus. Once again, Ahab receives prophetic assurance (verse 28), apparently from the same prophet who had encouraged him earlier (says Josephus, Antiquities 8.14.3). When King Benhadad of Syria (known in Assyrian sources as “Hadadezer”) is captured, he agrees to a politically expedient treaty with Ahab (verses 30-34). Actually, these two men need one another, because the region is about to be invaded by a king more powerful than either, Shalmaneser III of Assyria. Israel and Syria will be parts of a coalition assembled to oppose the Assyrians at the Battle of Qarqar in 854 B.C.

Friday, August 3

Mark 8:31-9:1: After the first half of the Gospel of Mark climaxes with Simon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (8:29), the dominating theme of the Gospel’s second half, the mystery of the Cross, commences immediately. This second half of Mark manifestly breaks into two parts: first, a narrative structured around the Lord’s three prophecies of His coming Passion (8:31; 9:31; 10:32–34); second, a detailed account of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life (chapters 11–16).

The second half of Mark is structured geographically, in the sense that each of the three aforesaid prophecies takes place in a location ever nearer to Jerusalem: Caesarea Philippi (8:27), Capernaum in Galilee (9:30,33), and the neighborhood of Jericho (10:46). The importance of this journey is emphasized by Mark’s constant use of the word “way” or “road” (hodos in Greek, the root of our English word “odometer’)—cf. 8:27; 9:33f; 10:17,32,46,52.

Each of these Markan passages may be contrasted, in this respect, to their parallels in Matthew and Luke. While Matthew 20:30 and Luke 18:35 (corresponding to Mark 10:46) do have the word hodos, it is missing in every other instance of Synoptic parallels to those verses in Mark. This fact indicates clearly that we are dealing with a special Markan accent on the “way” of the Cross.

Moreover, each of Jesus’ three predictions of His Passion is met
by some completely inappropriate response on the part of His disciples. In the first case, Simon Peter answers the Lord by declaring the whole idea of the Cross unacceptable: “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” (8:32). In the second instance, Mark comments that the disciples “did not understand this saying and were afraid to ask Him” (9:32). For their part, the disciples begin immediately to dispute “among themselves who would be the greatest” (9:34)! By way of response to the Lord’s third prophecy of His Passion, “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask’” (10:35).

In all three examples, that is to say, the Lord’s preaching to His disciples about the necessity of the Cross falls on infertile soil. The first seed falls “beside the way (para ten hodon). . . . Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that is sown in their hearts” (4:15). Such is the case of Simon Peter, who refuses to hear the word of the Cross. Satan takes it from his heart. Thus, Jesus addresses him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (8:33).

In the second case, the seed “fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth” (4:5). This is the instance exemplified by the disciples who, when they heard the word of the Cross, promptly began to argue among themselves for preeminence (9:33–34), illustrating how, “when tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake, they immediately stumble” (4:17).

In the third case, the “seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it” (4:7). This reception of the word is illustrated by James and John, who respond by asking Jesus if they may sit on either side of Him in His glory (10:37). Their spirit of ambition and self-aggrandizement corresponds to “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (4:19).

In short, the disciples of Jesus are still men of the world, mindful of the things of men and not the things of God. They are still self-centered and ambitious. To counter this “apostolic resistance” to the message of the Lord’s suffering and death, Jesus three times preaches a more elaborate sermon on “the word of the Cross,” on the necessity of taking up the Cross and its shame (8:34–38), on the imitation of Christ by becoming the servant of all (9:35; 10:42–45), and the commitment to live by the standards of the Cross implicit in the ordinances of Baptism and Holy Communion (10:38–40).

The last person in this section of Mark is blind Bartimaeus, who sits “beside the way (para ten hodonI)” and is given sight by Jesus. This sight enables Bartimaeus to do what the other disciples have resisted doing: “And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way (en te hodo)” (10:46–52). At last the seed falls on good ground and bears fruit.