October 29 – November 5, 2021

Friday, October 29

2 Chronicles 7: The Lord’s fiery response to Solomon’s prayer (verse 1) caused those gathered at the Temple to fall prostrate in worship and praise (verse 3). One recalls that when the prayer of Elijah brought sacrificial fire from heaven, the response of the onlookers was identical (1 Kings 18:36-39).

The descent of the divine fire to consume the initial sacrifices in the Temple is not mentioned in Holy Scripture except in Chronicles, which also noted the same miracle when David earlier offered sacrifices on that very site, Ornan’s threshing floor (1Chronicles 21:26). In Leviticus (9:24) the same miracle sealed the consecration of Aaron.

In pursuit of one of his usual themes, only the Chronicler mentions the musical ministry that accompanied these dedicatory sacrifices in the Temple (verse 6).

It seems that this autumnal celebration, which lasted a whole octave (verse 8), finished on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which also lasted an octave (verse 9; Leviticus 23:36). The account in Chronicles thus clarifies an obscurity about the length of the celebration in 1 Kings 8:65-66).

Perhaps it would have been a distraction to the Chronicler to mention that Yom Kippur also feel during the octave of the Temple’s dedication (cf. Numbers 29:7), or perhaps the feast was simply moved or omitted that year. Liturgical custom has known such things.

The Lord, as though in response to all this celebration, again appeared to Solomon by night, to confirm and qualify His earlier promises to David (verses 11-22; 1 Kings 9:1-9). In those verses that are proper to the Chronicler (verses 12b-15), the Temple is called “a house of sacrifice, an expression suggesting two things.

First, the prayers associated with the Temple, to the subject of which so much of the previous chapter was devoted, were not to be disassociated from the sacrificial ritual proper to the Temple. In fact, as we earlier reflected, the times of the evening and morning sacrifices in the Temple became the normal hours of daily prayer for those who worshipped elsewhere. It is a plain fact, asserted in both Testaments, that we sinful men do not draw nigh unto God apart from the shedding of blood, without which there is no remission.

Second, Jerusalem was the proper place for sacrifice. This truth was to become a principle of liturgical reform later on in the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah, who endeavored to close down all other places of sacrifice.

Saturday, October 30

2 Chronicles 8: Having devoted six chapters of this book to what he considered the truly significant aspect of Solomon’s reign—that is, the Temple—the Chronicler spends the next two chapters on the more secular matters of the Solomonic era, such as foreign and domestic policy, trade, and economics.

As he divides his treatment between these two aspects of Solomon’s reign, the Chronicler’s preference for the spiritual concern over the material, we observe, falls into a ratio of about three to one, the spiritual also being treated first. It is instructive to compare this ratio with his treatment of David. In that earlier story, as we have seen, the king’s relationship to the Temple was the final thing recorded of him (a sequence reasonably required the facts), but the Chronicler’s proportion of spiritual concerns (1 Chronicles 15—16 and 22—29) to material (1 Chronicles 11—13 and 17—21) is still weighted significantly on the side of the former.

Inasmuch as the previous six chapters have been devoted the theme of construction, it seems appropriate that the Chronicler begins his description of the ‘secular’ side of Solomon by speaking of his other building projects in the Holy Land (verses 1-6), a subject that leads naturally to local geography and thence to an account of the pagans who still live in the area (verses 7-8). This subject is tied to Solomon’s domestic policies (verses 9-10), which account reminds the author to mention Solomon’s wife and the palace he built for her. Though this latter building is mentioned in 1 Kings, only Chronicler explains the project as an effort of keeping this Egyptian woman and her Egyptian retinue from defiling the buildings used by Israelites (verse 11).

After eleven verses of such profane and secular concerns, the Chronicler, as though weary of the subject, reverts once again, albeit briefly, to a further account of Solomon’s liturgical interests (verses 11-16, verses particular to this author).

The chapter closes with the king’s opening of a southern trade route that will join Huram’s great mercantile enterprises to opportunities along the coasts of Arabia and Africa (verses 17-18). This great, which secular history regards as one of Solomon’s most significant achievements, serves to introduce the Queen of Sheba in the next chapter.

Sunday, October 31

Luke 18.35-43: In Luke’s account, this healing of blindness immediately precedes the story of Zacchaeus, the Publican who “sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19.3. That is to say, Luke’s attention is directed to the deeper, spiritual meaning of “sight” and, especially, of its recovery.

In all parts of the Bible, as well as pagan literature, blindness often symbolizes a spiritual problem. The reason for this simple: the gift of sight is not a blessing that pertains to the eyes alone, but to our other senses as well.

Indeed, it is arguable that the verb “see” is used as often in a metaphorical or spiritual sense as it is in a literal sense.

For instance, we may inquire, “Do you see what I mean?” as often as we ask, “Have you seen the car keys?” We do this so frequently we tend not to notice it. The metaphor of sight comes to stand in for the other senses. Thus, we do not hesitate to instruct someone, “Listen to this piece by Mozart and see how he varies the melodic line.” Or, “Taste this nutmeg and this mesquite powder and see the difference.” Or, more famously, “Taste and see how God the Lord is.” In short, the gift of sight symbolizes a much larger and more spiritual blessing.

Moreover, when we refer to sight in a spiritual, metaphorical, or interior sense, we recognize that such sight is more important and even more precious than the physical ability of our eyes. That is to say, most of us—forced to the choice—would prefer to be physically blind than to be insane. We value our interior sight more than our physical sight. If we don’t, then we have already made the choice: we are insane.

The light of intelligibility is always there. Man’s problem is his historical loss of sight. The spiritual quality of sight is what prompted the Christian Church to refer to the sacrament of Baptism as “holy illumination.” Baptism is the first of that series of initiatory rituals by which we enter the flock of God. The last of these rituals is Holy Communion, in which we really do “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

When we see the true light, we don’t see simply the light; we see everything on which the light shines. The true light is what permits us to understand the world and ourselves without distortion; the true light is the light which shines on the transfigured face of Christ, that light by which we are given to gaze on the glory of reality as it comes forth from the hand of God.

Monday, November 1

2 Chronicles 10: This chapter is one of several places where the Chronicler clearly presumes his readers’ familiarity with certain historical facts that he leaves unsaid. Here, for instance, he omits the detailed introduction to Jeroboam found in 1 Kings 11:23-40. If the Chronicler thinks it unimportant to relate those details, it is partly because he can rest assured that his readers already know them. That is to say, he can safely tell this story of the schism of 922 in his own way, because is he can safely presume that the facts of the case are already well known.

With respect to Rehoboam (922-913), the son and successor of Solomon (with whom he shared co-regency from 931), there is not much good to be said. He was almost the perfect example of what the Bible means by the word “fool.” Because he was the son of Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, furthermore, this foolishness was a matter of irony as well as tragedy.

After Solomon’s death, this heir to Israel’s throne traveled to Schechem, to receive the nation’s endorsement as its new ruler (verse 1). The move was especially necessary with respect to Israel’s northern tribes, a people touchy about their traditional rights and needing to be handled gently. Even David, we recall, had to be made king twice, first over Judah about the year 1000 (2 Samuel 2:4,10) and then over the north some years later (5:4-5).

Those northern tribes, for their part, seemed willing to be ruled by Rehoboam, but they craved assurance that the new king would respect their ancient traditions and customs (verse 4). This is the first time the Chronicler even hints at popular unhappiness with the reign and policies of Solomon. The plaintiffs sought from his son, therefore, a simple pledge that their grievances would be taken seriously in the future. A great deal depended on Rehoboam’s answer.

The new king apparently took the matter seriously, because he sought advice on what to say. He began by consulting the seniors of the royal court, the very men who had for forty years provided guidance for his father (verse 6). These were the elder statesmen of the realm, those qualified to give the most prudent political counsel.

Significantly, these older men urged Rehoboam in the direction of caution and moderation with respect to the northern tribes: “If you are kind to these people, and please them, and speak good words to them, they will be your servants forever” (verse 7).

Rehoboam, nonetheless, eschewing the instruction of his elders, followed the impulses of his younger companions, who encouraged him to stand tough and not let himself be pushed around (verse 8). Indeed, they urged Rehoboam to be insulting and provocative to the petitioners (verse 9-11). Pursuing this foolish counsel, then, he immediately lost the larger part of his kingdom (verses 12-19).

As I suggested above, there is great irony here, for it may be said that one of the major practical purposes of the Book of Proverbs, traditionally ascribed to Solomon, was to prevent and preclude exactly the mistake committed by Solomon’s son. According to Proverbs, the fool is the man who ignores the counsel of the old and follows the impulses of untried youth.

Many a life has been ruined—and in this case a kingdom lost—because someone preferred the pooled stupidity of his contemporaries to the accumulated wisdom of his elders. Those whose counsel Rehoboam spurned, after all, were not just any old men. They were the very ancients who had provided sound guidance to the man whom the Chronicler regarded as Israel’s most sagacious monarch.

Tuesday, November 2

Luke 19.1-10: Let us consider three things about the man in the sycamore tree: First, this is the second story in a row about men who wanted to see Jesus but were unable. The blind man could not see Jesus for the simple reason that he was blind! In this respect Zacchaeus is like the blind man; he couldn’t see Jesus either. Zacchaeus could not see Jesus, because he was too short, and Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. In neither of the two cases were the men able to see Jesus.

We observe that both men made themselves conspicuous. In the case of the blind man, he took to shouting out a prayer to Jesus for mercy. He made himself so conspicuous that the crowd attempted to silence him. One imagines that because the blind man could not see Jesus, he feared that maybe Jesus would not see him. He obliges Jesus to stop, as it were, and attend to him. He was bold in his prayer.

In the case of Zacchaeus, on the other hand, he could actually do something about his inability to see Jesus: He could climb a tall tree in order to get a better view, and this is exactly what he did. Putting aside all sense of self-respect, he managed to get himself up that tree and look over the heads in the crowd.

In both cases, these men put aside all sense of shame and embarrassment. They wanted to see Jesus, and they did whatever was necessary. They did not care what anyone thought of them. Zacchaeus thought a great deal less of his own dignity than he did about seeing Jesus. He was prepared to sacrifice his pride, his reputation, and his self-respect in order to look at Jesus. So in lowliness of heart he climbed the sycamore tree, ironically attaining the exaltation promised to those who humble themselves. He did what only the humble can do. He gazed upon Jesus. That is why he shared in the grace given to the blind man. They both received the gift that only Jesus can give.

Second, unlike the blind man, this publican’s name is given in the Gospel of Luke. To learn the name of the blind man, we must go to the Gospel of Mark, who tells us that his name was Bartimaeus. Luke does not tell us. He does tell us, however, the name of the tax in the tree. Indeed, he tells us that Jesus summoned this man by name: “Zacchaeus, come down!”

In the case of the blind man, the practical initiative seems to be from the side of the blind man. He is the one who forces Jesus to stop. He is the one that cries out for mercy.

The story of Zacchaeus is quite different in this respect. Here we see Jesus taking the initiative. It is now Jesus that stops the movement along the road by calling Zacchaeus to himself and calling him by name. This detail tells us a great deal. It tells us that Zacchaeus is one of the Lord’s own sheep, because the Good Shepherd calls each of His own by name,

Obviously the Lord did not look for much. Zacchaeus still had a long way to go; he was far from perfect. Indeed, he was perhaps a bit of a stuffed shirt and braggadocio. Truly, there is something embarrassing about his boast: “I give half my goods to the poor!” Apparently he had not yet learned that those who follow Jesus are called to give up everything, not just half. No matter. Zacchaeus was halfway along the way of the Cross, and our Lord accepted him as he was. He already demonstrated that he had taken his first steps on the path of humility, and that was sufficient. A man does not have to be perfect before Jesus calls him by name.

Third, this road through Jericho is the same southbound road along which Jesus met the blind man. It was the road to the Cross, the “redemption in Jerusalem.” Jesus, when He arrives at Jerusalem, will also climb a tree, where He will give His life for the salvation of both Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus, and for all mankind. The Good Shepherd not only calls each sheep of His flock by name; He also lays down his life for them.

In the final words of this story (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus proclaims, “the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” This is, after all, a story about the Good Shepherd finding a lost sheep named Zacchaeus, and.

It was the wisdom of both Zacchaeus and the blind man that they would not let himself get lost in the crowd. They both made a point of standing out by humility, self-abasement, and the need for divine mercy. Jesus, Himself meek and humble of heart, was able to read their hearts, and He found those hearts to be like unto His own.

Wednesday, November 3

Colossians 2.1-19: In the traditional Great Doxology we Christians confess to Christ our Lord, “Thou alone are holy” sy monos hagios, tu solus sancts. This is not a quantitative assertion, declaring that Christ, being holier than the rest of us, is said to be the “only saint.” He is not only holier than the rest of us. He is holy in a sense very different from the rest of us. His is not a derived holiness. It is the very holiness of God, “for in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

If Christ alone is holy, it is also his glory that fills the earth. “The whole earth is full of His glory,” chanted the Seraphim. Holiness is God’s glory hidden and unseen. Glory is God’s holiness openly revealed. Hence, it is the holiness of Christ that causes the glory of God to shine forth from his face (John 1:14; 2 both conceals and reveals the mystery of God.

2 Chronicles 13: Pre-battle speeches by kings and generals are normally directed to their own troops, but in the present case Jeroboam permitted his opponent to speak as long as he wanted, because meanwhile a northern party of ambuscade was moving to the rear of Abijah’s forces, planning to hit them from two sides (verse 13). The longer Abijah talked, thought Jeroboam, the better position his own men in the rear would attain.

Abijah, standing on a tall borderline hill from which he could be heard by the forces of Jeroboam, lays out his own perspective of the battle about to ensue. The fault, says Abijah, lies completely with Jeroboam, who took advantage of youth and vacillation (!) of Rehoboam in order to lead an insurrection against legitimate and even divinely covenanted authority.

Then Abijah comes to the heart of the matter—at least the concern dominant in the heart of the Chronicler—Jeroboam, a worshipper of golden calves, drove out the legitimate sons of Levi from the north and elevated non-Levites in their place. The merit of Judah over the Northern Kingdom lay in its fidelity to the true God, worshipped as He Himself had decreed His worship. This is the essence of the Chronicler’s case against the schismatic tribes of the north. Unlike Judah, the Northern Kingdom had abandoned the legitimate priesthood and the orthodox form of worship.

In the historical perspective of the Chronicler, this liturgical consideration absolutely trumped every other. In his mind political power and military success said nothing of a kingdom’s final worth. In the last analysis, only the correct worship of God gave significance to a nation’s history. Writing long after the events described in this chapter, and long after each of the kingdoms warring in this chapter had disappeared, the Chronicler looked back and inquired just what, in those historical events, was of ultimate significance, and he answered—the orthodox worship of the Lord. This is the point of Abijah’s speech.

Thursday, November 4

Colossians 2.11-17: Paul proceeds to discuss our communion with Christ, initiated through Baptism, the sacrament that fulfills and replaces the Old Testament initiatory rite of circumcision (verse 11). Although Baptism is a bodily thing, it does not, like circumcision, leave a bodily mark. The “mark” of Baptism is visible only to God. The flesh of the baptized Christian looks exactly like all other flesh. His real life is “hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).

Yet, Baptism does involve a definite “putting off” (apekdysis, a word found only here in the New Testament) of “the body of the flesh.” This latter expression, as is indicated by the (textually unreliable, alas) reading “sins of the flesh” found in the King James Version, means the ascetical life of the believer, who lives no longer under the dominance of the fleshly passions.

Paul’s point here, then, is a contrast between circumcision, whereby the initiate lose only part of his flesh, and Baptism, by which the believer completely abandons a fleshly way of life.

This latter way of life is a spiritual circumcision (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3), here called “the circumcision of Christ.” The following chapter will spell out what this spiritual circumcision means in practice.

Baptism is no mere ritual (much less, merely a symbol), because through it the believing initiate is mystically united to the burial and Resurrection of Christ Himself (verse 12; cf. Romans 6:1-11). To be baptized, therefore, is a supreme act of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. (Baptism actually accomplishes that which it symbolizes, which is the definition of a sacrament. It is not a “work” performed by the believer. It is a work of the living Christ Himself. No matter who the minister of Baptism is, it is always Christ who baptizes.)
This union with Christ in Baptism is indicated by the preposition and prefix “syn-,” meaning “with.” Thus, we believers died “with Christ” (syn Christo—verse 20), were buried “with Him” (syntaphentes avto), were raised “with Him (synegerthete—verse 12) and were “made alive with Him” (synezoopoisen . . . syn avto—verse 13, cf. Ephesians 2:5).

Unlike the Baptismal imagery of dying and rising in Romans 6, where the Christian’s resurrection is described in terms of the end of history, the accent here in Colossians is on union with Christ in the here and now. (Indeed, this difference of perspectives, from the future to the present, is in general one of the chief ways in which Colossians and Ephesians differ from Romans.) Even now this union with Christ is accomplished by the divine activity (energia tou Theou) at work in us. Paul has ready recourse to this word energia in Colossians (here and 1:29) and Ephesians (1:19; 3:7; 4:16).

The “handwriting of requirements that was against us”—or, more literally, “the bond written against us in decrees”—refers to the burden of the Mosaic Law, particularly those parts of the Torah threatening punishment to those who fail to observe its precepts (verse 14; Ephesians 2:15; cf. Deuteronomy 30:19). Christ assumed this burden and debt upon Himself, when He was nailed to the Cross, laying down His life in atoning sacrifice on our behalf (cf. Isaiah 53:4-5).

At this point in Colossians the expression “principalities and powers” does not refer to angelic beings in general, but to those demonic forces — fallen angels — by whom humanity without Christ is held in bondage (verse 15).

The “in it” of verse 15 should more properly read “on it” (exactly the same preposition in Greek), referring to the Lord’s Cross. It was on that Cross that Jesus was victorious over the demons by His blood-bought abolition of our sins. The death of Christ not only altered our relationship to God; it altered our condition with respect to the demons. That is to say, the Cross of Christ was not only expiatory, but it was also triumphant.

Friday, November 5

2 Chronicles 14: Abijah’s death (verse 1) after three years (13:2) was premature and unexplained, but perhaps fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters (13:21) led to an overly stressful domestic life that may have taken its toll.

Abijah was succeeded by Asa, one of Judah’s longest reigning kings (911-870), whom both historians credit with doing “what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God” (verse 2). Flavius Josephus expanded slightly on that description: “Now Asa, the king of Jerusalem, was of an excellent character, and had a regard to God, and neither did nor designed anything but what had relation to the observation of the laws. He made a reformation of his kingdom, and cut off whatsoever was wicked therein, and purified it from every impurity” (Antiquities 8.12.1).

The Chronicler’s brief account of Asa’s religious reforms (verses 3-5) corresponds roughly to that of 1 Kings 15:7-12), but it is immediately followed by a long section not found in Kings (14:6—15:15).

During ten years of peace (verses 1,6), Asa strengthened and fortified the kingdom (verses 7-8). And none too soon, as events would prove, for about the year 900 Zerah the Cushite, as the Hebrew text calls him, invaded Judah from the south. Still, the word “million” to describe the size of Zerah’s army is a bit misleading. The expression in biblical Hebrew, a language that doesn’t have the word “million,” is “thousand thousand,” an idiomatic term meaning “lots and lots.” Apparently there were Lybians also included in his force (cf. 16:8), and clearly Asa is badly outnumbered, as he indicates in his prayer (verse 11).

The biblical text gives no indication of Asa’s winning strategy, perhaps because the Chronicler felt that such information might detract from the theological truth of the day—namely, “the Lord defeated” the invaders (verse 12). The Chronicler, true to his understanding of biblical history, will ascribe nothing in this battle to human power. Indeed, Josephus says that the battle took place while Asa was making his prayer for victory (Antiquities 8.12.2). The defeat itself was total, and the Bible revels in a description of the enemy’s flight and the taking of the spoils (verses 13-15).

It was on his return from the battlefield to Jerusalem that the king and his army encountered a prophet with a thing or two on his mind.