September 25 – October 2, 2020

Friday, September 25

Luke 9:1-9: In these verses Luke compresses a much longer and more detailed story found in Mark 6:7-29. In place of Mark’s elaborate account of the murder of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, Luke tells of Herod’s confusion about Jesus; He wonders if Jesus, about whom he is currently hearing so much, might not be a John redivivus/i>. He is very curious about Jesus, and he hopes to meet him.

In these brief comments, Luke prepares his readers for Jesus’ appearance before Herod during the course of his trial (23:6-12); only Luke provides information on this detail of the Passion.

What was Luke’s source for this material, a source apparently not available to the other evangelists? Luke himself provides a hint toward answering this historical question when he mentions a certain Chuza, described as Herod’s “steward” (epitropos). The term designates a high political office, such as a chief of staff.

It does not tax belief to imagine that such a person would be present at Jesus’ arraignment before Herod Antipas. Indeed, this would be exactly the sort of person we would expect to be present on that occasion, when Herod was in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Furthermore, Chuza is also the sort of person we would expect to be familiar with Herod’s own thoughts, sentiments, and motives with respect to Jesus.

And how did Chuza’s information come to Luke? Most certainly through Chuza’s wife, Joanna, whom Luke includes among the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the Apostles, providing for Him “from their substance” (Luke 8:3). Joanna, whom Luke is the only evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the evangelists, seems to have had. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Acting in this capacity, she
must have been very well known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his Gospel.

2 Corinthians 7:13—8:7: Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus (verses 13-16), Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 and 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Philippians, who have already established the custom of sacrificial giving with respect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in generosity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expression of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the collection in that city too (verse 6). This will be the perfecting of the good ministry that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.

Saturday, September 26

2 Corinthians 8:8-24: Paul admits that the current admonition, in which much is made of the zeal of the Macedonians, is intended to test the commitment of the Corinthians (verse 8). With respect to self-sacrificial generosity, nonetheless, Paul appeals not only to the example of other Christians but also to that of Christ Himself (verse 9; Philippians 2:6-11).

To facilitate the collection at Corinth, Paul is sending, not only Titus, but two other emissaries to assist him in the work (verses 18-22; 12:17-18). Paul does not name these men, but it is not necessary to do so because their identity will be known when they arrive with Titus. Moreover, these men are, in part, delegates of the churches participating in the collection (verse 23). Luke provides a list of those who carried the money after the collection, in which list we observe that he mentions the origin of each man: Beroea and Thessaloniki in Macedonia, Derbe in Pisidia, and Asia Minor. It is not unreasonable to suspect that the two anonymous emissaries mentioned by Paul are included in Luke’s list (acts 20:4).

Clearly Paul was much concerned with this collection when he wrote the present epistle. Indeed, the highly artificial character of his style in chapters 8 and 9 seems to suggest uneasiness on his part respecting the reaction of these sometimes-troublesome Corinthians. Paul had only recently quarreled with some of them, and now he finds himself asking them for money! From a pastoral perspective, the situation was a bit delicate. Still, Paul could not neglect this collection, which he had promised to undertake (Galatians 2:10).

Psalms 70 (Greek & Latin 69): The opening verse of this psalm, from great antiquity, has been a formula used for constant prayer in all circumstances of life. The roots of this usage , go back to the Christian East, especially Egypt. In the early fifth century, the popularity of this prayer among Egyptian monks was observed by John Cassian, a Romanian monk who traveled extensively around the Mediterranean and finally settled in southern Gaul.

The tenth book of Cassian’s great work, The Conferences, which is the second conference of Abba Isaac on prayer, describes the efficacy of this psalm verse in all the circumstances of life. Whether in temptation or calm, says Abba Isaac, whether in fear or reassurance, whether in pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow, there are no circumstances in life when it is not supremely proper to pray: “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me.” This prayer, he goes on, should never be absent from our lips.

Sunday, September 27

2 Corinthians 9:1-15: Paul continues, with a repetition suggesting uneasiness, to discuss the collection for the saints and the Corinthians’ participation in it. He has held up the Corinthians for emulation by the Macedonians (verse 2), just as he is currently holding up the Macedonians for the emulation of the Corinthians (8:1-5). The two cases are not equal, however. The Macedonians, with their longer track record of generosity, have actually contributed to the collection, whereas the most Paul can say about the Corinthians is that they have been “ready since last year” (cf. also 8:11 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Still, this is not a point on which Paul is entirely confident (verses 3-5). Hence he is sending Titus and two others to give further encouragement in the matter.

Even as Paul continues to write on the subject, he says it is “superfluous” (perisson) to do so. This is an expression of rhetorical irony, of course. Paul knows very well that it is far from superfluous! We are glad that he continues on the subject, because the present chapter richly develops the theme of generous giving.

First, he calls this giving a “service” (diakonia–verses 1,12,13), which places the collection in the larger context of what all believers owe to one another, the obligation to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), poverty being one of those burdens.

Second, the underlying spirit of the gift is to be generosity, a true “blessing” (evlogia–twice each in verses 5,6), and not stinginess (pleonechsia). That is to say, the collection serves more than an economic purpose; tt is designed also to enrich the spirit. Ironically the collection may be called self-serving, in the sense that one sows in order to reap (verse 6). The Lord, who is never outdone in generosity, invites believers to test Him on the point (verses 7-8). The collection involves the “heart” (kardia).

Third, none of this enterprise is of purely human inspiration. It is all “grace” (charis–verses 8,14), which is why he continues to speak of “abounding” (perissevo–verses 8,9,12; 8:2,714 [twice]). All generosity begins with God (verse 10), who is the source of all “righteousness” (dikaiosyne–verses 9,10).

Fourth, everything leads to thanksgiving (evcharistia–verses 11,12). God’s purpose in all things is to bring forth in human beings a thankful heart.

Psalms 73 (Greek & Latin 72): While many of the psalms are congregational hymns manifestly composed for public worship, this is one of those showing signs of a more private origin, taking its rise in the intimate reflections of the pondering heart. Psalm 73 is concerned with much the same moral problem as Job and Habakkuk—“If God is just and on the side of justice, and if also God is almighty, why do wickedness and injustice seem to prevail?”

Already in this, its most elementary moral presupposition—its basic sentiment of hope, expecting goodness and justice to prevail over evil and injustice—Psalm 73 stands radically at odds with much of our present popular philosophy. Indeed, one of the more characteristic features of the modern world is its growing inability to presume that the moral order, including the social order, is rooted in the metaphysical order, described by Colin Gunton as “the order of being as a whole.” Relatively few people in today’s culture seem any longer able to presuppose that they live in a moral universe where the differences between right and wrong, justice and injustice, are fixed in the composition of reality.

Monday, September 29

2 Corinthians 10:1-18: We come now to the lengthy self-defense for which it is arguable this epistle is most remembered. If Paul had inappropriate partisans at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12-13), so he had his critics, and now he will proceed to answer them.

He begins with irony, perhaps even sarcasm, apparently referring to those who think him humble only in his personal presence but overly bold as a writer (verses 1,10). His critics regard him as sinful (“walk according to the flesh”) in this respect (verse 2).

Paul admits to fleshly limitations (verse 3), an admission earlier conceded in his image of the clay vessels (4:7) and later described as a thorn in the flesh (12:7). Being “in the flesh,” however, is no worse than being “in the world” (1:12). It is simply the human condition of frailty.

Paul shifts his metaphor from walking to warring (verse 3) (or from the Odyssey to the Iliad, as it were—from life as journey to life as struggle). Combat is the more appropriate metaphor for what Paul has to say (verses 4-6). If no evil forces were arrayed against us, walking might be an adequate metaphor for life, but this is not the case.

The real enemy is intellectual arrogance, a trait Paul addressed at depth in First Corinthians. This intellectual arrogance is what renders impossible the true “knowledge of God” (verse 5; 2:14; 5:6). Hence, a person’s first obedience to Christ is an obedience of the mind. The context of this point is Paul’s authority as an apostle, an authority on which he is prepared to elaborate at some length in the rest of the epistle (verses 7-8). To prepare for this elaboration, Paul devotes the second half of this chapter to a consideration of true and false boasting (verses 12-18). This section sets up the remaining chapters of this book.

Paul starts with obvious irony (verse 12) that one scholar translates as “Well, I really cannot muster the courage to pair myself [enkrinai] or compare myself [synkrinai] with certain persons who are distinguished by much self-commendation [synistano–3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 10:12,18; 12:11].” Unlike these persons, nonetheless, Paul has special claims on the Corinthians as the founder of their congregation (verse 14; 1 Corinthians 3:6,10).

Tuesday, September 29

Job 36: Elihu finished the previous chapter by accusing Job of hebel, variously translated as “vanity” (cf. KJV “in vain”) and “emptiness” (cf. RSV “empty talk”). This word, so important to the Book of Ecclesiastes (where it appears 38 times, most famously in “vanity of vanities, and all is vanity”), puts a compelling finger on the problem. In the Book of Job (unlike the Book of Ecclesiastes), the problem of hebel is not an alleged emptiness in the universe (though Job in 7:16 does momentarily wonder about this); indeed, almost all the speakers in Job explicitly refute this notion of a chaotic world.

What is at issue in Job is, rather, whether or not man’s moral life will be hebel. Will Job himself prove to be only vanity and emptiness by his choices? There is irony in Elihu’s comment here, because hebel is the very word Job earlier used to describe the “comfort” his friends were providing for him (21:34).

2 Corinthians 11:1-15: Paul here begins his self-defense against the criticisms of certain roaming preachers who have stirred up controversy at Corinth since his last visit to the place. From Acts and 1 Corinthians we know that Apollos and Cephas had done some evangelization in the city, but it is clear that Paul does not have these men in mind. It is impossible to determine who his critics were.

Was Paul accused of jealousy with respect to those critics? Evidently so, but he explains the motive, nature, and justice of this jealous (verse 2). This jealousy is for Christ, not himself; it is an expression of loving pastoral concern, for he fears the spiritual seduction of the Corinthians (verse 3). After all, the latter have shown themselves disposed to receive and accept new versions of the Good News (verse 4), preached by these itinerant evangelists whom he mockingly calls “hyper-apostles” (verse 5; 12:11) and, more seriously, “false apostles” (verse 13).

It appears that Paul’s humble demeanor at Corinth, where he was supported by his own labor (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 4:12; 9:18) and the financial support received from Macedonia (verse 9; Philippians 2:25; 4:10-20), made him the object of derision among his critics (verse 7). This suggests that Paul’s critics at Corinth may have enjoyed a higher social status, even as they accepted the support of the Corinthians. Since Paul did, in fact, accept support from other churches, it would seem that he had early sized up the spirit of the Corinthians and concluded that to accept their support would not be prudent in this case. Sometimes, after all, financial support comes with certain undisclosed obligations that will eventually render the recipient a debtor.

Paul’s language concerning his critics contains some of the harshest expressions to come from his pen.

Wednesday, September 30

2 Corinthians 11:16-33: Paul commences his autobiographical apologetic, recounting at length the various sufferings and trials attendant on his ministry, aware that his readers may regard his comments only as an exercise in foolishness (verse 16).

With sarcasm Paul comments that the Corinthians are already accustomed to tolerating foolishness, themselves being so wise (verse 19; 1 Corinthians 4:10). Their tolerance is so great that they have already been outrageously treated by the false itinerant teachers (verse 20). Their enslavement (katadouloi) at the hands of these teachers puts us in mind of the earlier situation in Galatia, where “false brothers” brought free Christians back under the slavery of the Law (katadoulousin–Galatians 2:4). The Corinthians have been similarly mistreated.

It becomes clear that Paul’s opponents are Jews, but so is he (verse 22; Philippians 3:5). They claim to be servants of Christ, but Paul’s credentials are stronger and more credible, and he proceeds to list them. Not only has he been beaten and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23); he has also often been in danger of death (verse 23. Paul’s list here contains some details not found in the Acts of the Apostles. From the latter work we would not have suspected, for instance, that Paul had already suffered shipwreck three times (verse 25) prior to the occasion described in Acts 27.

Thursday, October 1

Job 37: The first half of this chapter continues Elihu’s praise of God. This is Elihu’s way of exhorting Job, similar to the way that St. James exhorts all of us: “Is any among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13). The deliberate praise of God is the proper and godly response of a faithful soul to the experience of suffering.

The section of Elihu’s hymn of praise in this chapter dwells especially on the imagery of the storm. He finally closes his discourse by exhorting Job to dwell more on what he knows of God and to assess his own suffering in the light of that knowledge. Elihu addresses Job directly, exhorting him to weigh God’s wondrous works. He puts to Job a list of parallel questions bearing on Job’s own ignorance of God’s ways (verses 15–18). To each of these questions, Job’s only possible answer is “no.” He cannot explain anything about God. Elihu then challenges Job himself to be the teacher (verses 19–20).

Most striking of Elihu’s comments is that respecting the sun (verse 21). Man’s inability to gaze directly at the light of heaven does not lessen the reality of that light. The inability is in man’s own limited faculty, not in the truth of what he is unable to gaze upon. Yet, the real light of God is brighter than the sun.

Elihu means here that primeval light, the luminosity of the created universe, called forth by God’s voice on the first day of Creation, days before the sun was made (Genesis 1:3, 16). If man is unable to look directly at the sun, how does he dare to attempt to look directly at that stronger light at the heart of created reality? His inability to do so in no way calls the light itself into question.

What, finally, is to be said of Elihu’s contribution to this discussion about suffering and justice? It is worth remarking that his lengthy discourse prepares the way for God’s revelation to Job in the book’s closing chapters. It should also be noted that God does not reprimand Elihu as He does Job and the three comforters.

Elihu’s final presentation, combining the imagery of the storm with a series of unanswerable questions, prepares for the next chapter, in which God questions Job out of the whirlwind.

Friday, October 1

Job 38: Now the Lord Himself will speak, for the first time since chapter 2. After all, Job has been asking for God to speak (cf. 13:22; 23:5; 30:20; 31:35), and now he will get a great deal more than he anticipated. With a mere gesture, as it were, God proceeds to brush aside all the theories and pseudo-problems of the preceding chapters.

God speaks “from the whirlwind,” min sa‘arah, an expression sometimes associated in the Bible with theophanic experience. For example, the word famously appears twice in association with Elijah’s ascent in the fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:1, 11). In other examples the word emphasizes the divine judgment, particularly in the Book of Psalms (107:25, 29; 148:8) and in the prophets (Isaiah 29:6; 40:24; 41:16; Jeremiah 23:19; 30:23; Zechariah 9:14).

More especially, however, one is struck by the word in the theophanies recorded in Ezekiel, the only other Old Testament book in which the character of Job appears. Thus, the Lord manifests Himself in this way to Ezekiel in the book’s inaugural vision by the banks of the Kabari Canal: “Then I looked, and behold, a whirlwind”—sa‘arah (1:4), which the prophet then describes at some length. In the other two places where the word appears in Ezekiel, the emphasis is once again on the divine judgment (13:11, 13).

This same emphasis marks the whirlwind in Job. He has asked for a judgment from on high. Now he will hear it.

We should observe that the One who speaks from the whirlwind is “the Lord.” Except when Job uses this divine name in 12:9, this is the first time it has appeared in the Book of Job since chapter 2. It is significant that the God who speaks in these closing chapters is identified with Israel’s LORD. Job’s critics, including Elihu, have their various theories about “God,” but the only God who will address them definitively is the LORD, Israel’s transcendent and living God of judgment and mercy. This is the God who lives and speaks beyond all philosophical and religious theory.

In this respect, the Lord’s words to Job out of the whirlwind may be considered in the light of His words to Moses on the mountain, especially His auto-identification: “I am the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2). This Lord speaks to Moses, if not in a whirlwind, at least just as impressively. There were, we are told, “thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain.” Moreover, “Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:16, 18). Now the Lord, the God who spoke to Moses, addresses Job.

At this point, all philosophical discussion comes to an end. There are questions, to be sure, but the questions now come from the Lord. Indeed, we observe in this chapter that God does not answer Job’s earlier questions. The Lord does not so much as even notice those questions; He renders them hopelessly irrelevant. He has His own questions to put to Job.

Friday, October 2

2 Corinthians 12:14-21: Perhaps the most notable feature of verse 14 is Paul’s parental attitude toward his converts at Corinth. This parental aspect of the Christian ministry is what has prompted most Christians, over the centuries, to address their pastors as “Father” (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:11).

Even in his self-defense Paul has not been self-seeking. All has been done, even his “boasting,” for the sake of the flock at Corinth (verse 19). Still, the Apostle fears that his coming third visit to Corinth may not go well (verse 20). It seems clear that, in Paul’s mind, not everyone at Corinth has repented of the sexual sins that caused all the trouble in the first place (verse 21; 1 Corinthians 5:1-11; 6:12-20).

Job 39: The Lord, having surveyed for Job’s benefit the myriad manifestations of divine wisdom and power in the realms of astronomy, physics, and botany, now (beginning in 38:39) starts to examine the world of zoology.

Several animals are considered in varying degrees of detail: the lion and the raven, both of which, powerful hunters though they be, depend on God’s provision (38:39–41); the mountain goat (or ibex), the deer, and the wild ass, all characterized by the freedom of their migrations (verses 1–8); the rîmu, a now-extinct species of ox that man never managed to tame (verses 9–12; the Vulgate has “rhinoceros”); the ostrich, renowned for both its stupidity and its speed, and evidently placed here (verses 13–18) to be in proximity to the next animal; the mighty war charger, whose neck, larger than its head, is “clothed with thunder,” and who revels to be once again in the excitement of battle (verses 19–25); and finally the hawk and the eagle, accomplished hunters who see from afar (verses 26–30).

The greatest detail is devoted to the only domesticated animal in the list, the destrier, or warhorse. The horse in antiquity was reserved for combat. It was not used for plowing (the work of the ox), nor for carrying burdens (the work of donkeys), nor for ordinary riding (the work of mules and donkeys). The horse, this most noble and impressive of all the animals that man has tamed, was employed exclusively for battle.

Such a listing of animals and their habits, described for the purpose of praising God, is found likewise in Psalm 104 (103), the common introductory psalm of Vespers. It speaks of donkeys, birds, cattle, storks, wild goats, rock badgers, and lions. Similarly, Psalm 147 portrays the raven and the horse. When animals are described in the Book of Proverbs, on the other hand, it is normally for the purpose of drawing some moral lesson.