September 9 – September 16, 2022

Friday, September 9

Luke 6:20-26: Unlike the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, those here in Luke (only four) are contrasted with four Woes. This contrast fts a dominant pattern in Luke’s style; recall the contrast between Martha and Mary, the two sons of the same father, Lazarus and the rich man, the two thieves on the cross, and so forth.

Job 10: In this chapter Job examines various theories to explain the problem of his sufferings, only to reject all those theories in the end. Is God cruel (verse 3), or deceived (verse 4), or shortsighted (verse 5) with respect to Job?

No, Job answers. God knows that he is innocent (verse 7). Having mentioned God’s “hand” in verse 7 (“there is no one who can deliver from Your hand”), Job goes on, in verses 8–12, to meditate on God’s fashioning him by hand (“Your hands have made me and fashioned me”). This moving text is especially reminiscent of Psalm 139 (138):13–15.

All this care did God take in this creation and preservation; was everything for naught, Job wonders? Does he himself value this “life and mercy,” Job inquires, more than God does? Not a bit. God holds these matters in His heart, he says (verse 13). Feeling full of confusion at such thoughts, Job pleads only that God look upon his sufferings (verse 15).

Aware that he is not a wicked man, Job is compelled to imagine that God afflicts the just as well as the unjust, for reasons best known to Himself (verses 16–17). We readers, in fact, know this to be the case. We know exactly what those reasons are. We have the advantage of overhearing those early conversations between God and Satan in the first two chapters of the book.

In this respect we readers of the Book of Job enjoy a great interpretive edge over the human characters within the story itself, because from the very beginning of the story we have known its true dynamics and direction. Remembering that Job is being tried by a God who has great confidence in him, we readers are entirely on Job’s side in this contest and hope he will not fail his period of probation. For this reason we also know that the speculations of Job’s three friends are far wide of the mark.

At the same time, especially as Job expresses his longings in these lengthy soliloquies, we readers become conscious of the deeper dimensions of his character, levels of soul more profound than what might have been expected of that observant doer of God’s will introduced back in chapter 1. God, of course, has known these things all along; God was already thoroughly familiar with Job’s heart.

Throughout the story we ourselves are gradually given an insight into that heart, perceiving dimensions that we might not have anticipated. We begin to discern Job’s radical longing for God, his deep need for God’s approval. Though the verb itself is not used in the text, we are looking at a man that actually loves God.

Saturday, September 10

Job 11:1-20: Job’s most strident critic is Zophar, a man who can appeal to neither personal religious experience (as did Eliphaz) nor inherited moral tradition (as did Bildad). Possessed of neither resource, Zophar’s contribution is what we may call “third-hand.” He bases his criticism on his own theory of wisdom. Although he treats his theory as self-evidently true, we recognize it as only a personal bias.

Moreover, Zophar seems to identify his own personal perception of wisdom as the wisdom of God Himself. Whereas Bildad had endeavored to defend the divine justice, Zophar tries to glorify “divine” wisdom in Job’s case. If it is difficult to see justice verified in Job’s sufferings, however, it is even harder to see wisdom verified by those sufferings.

Like the two earlier speakers, Zophar calls on Job to repent in order to regain the divine favor. (This is a rather common misunderstanding that claims, “If things aren’t going well for you, you should go figure out how you have offended God, because He is obviously displeased with you.”)

Zophar also resorts to sarcasm. Although this particular rhetorical form is perfectly legitimate in some circumstances (and the prophets, beginning with Elijah, use it often), sarcasm becomes merely an instrument of cruelty when directed at someone who is suffering incomprehensible pain. In the present case, Job suffers in an extreme way, pushed to the very limits of his endurance. It is such a one that Zophar has the vile temerity to call a “man full of talk” (11:2), a liar (11:3), a vain man (11:11–12), and wicked (11:14, 20).

The final two verses (19–20) contain an implied warning against the “death wish” to which Job has several times given voice. This very sentiment, Zophar says, stands as evidence of Job’s wickedness.

The author of the Book of Job surely understands this extended criticism by Zophar as an exercise in irony. Though the context of his speech proves the speaker himself insensitive and nearly irrational in his personal cruelty, there is an undeniable eloquence in his description of the divine wisdom (11:7–9) and his assertion of the moral quality of human existence (11:10–12). Moreover, those very rewards that Zophar promises to Job in the event of his repentance (11:13–18) do, in fact, fall into Job’s life at the end of the book.

In this story of Job, men are not divided into those who have wisdom and those who don’t. In the Book of Job no one is really wise. There is no real wise man, as there is in, say, the Book of Proverbs. While wisdom is ever present in the plot of the story, no character in the story has a clear grasp of it. True wisdom will not stand manifest until God, near the end of the narrative, speaks for Himself. Even then God will not disclose to Job the particulars of His dealings with him throughout the story.

Sunday, September 11

Job 12:1-25: Job begins a speech (12:1—14:22) which is his longest until the final soliloquy in the book. Having just received a blast of sarcasm from Zophar, and now aware that all three of his friends are against him, Job himself takes up the weapon of sarcasm, and to considerable effect. He already knew, after all, everything that his friends have been telling him. Indeed, much of it was of the commonest knowledge. Though he had looked to his friends for insight, they have hitherto provided only truisms and platitudes.

Unlike his three friends, Job knows there is a mystery involved in his sufferings, and he endeavors to identify it. Tell me something new, he says to them, not things we all know already and are already agreed upon. Anyone with eyes in his head, Job argues, can see that the wicked sometimes really do prosper (verse 6). This much is not news. Might it not also be the case, however, that the just sometimes really do suffer?

Of course, God governs the world and all things, including the destinies of men (verse 10), but if the prosperity of the wicked is compatible with the governance of God, might not the suffering of the just also be consonant with the governance of God? Who among men has so clear an understanding of God that God can be reduced simply to a component in some human theory of justice?

These matters are not to be rashly concluded, says Job. They should, rather, be tested and probed, much as the ear of a writer tries various words, and the mouth of the cook tests various recipes (verse 11).

Indeed, the entire Book of Job, exploring the mystery of God’s justice and providence, is an example and illustration of such testing. Those who would speak for God, especially if they speak to a man who is suffering, should not pretend that they really see things as God does. This has been the offense of Job’s friends. They imagine themselves to be speaking for the Almighty, but in fact they are only trying words and testing recipes. Nothing more.

God will overthrow their theories (verse 20), bringing deep things out of darkness (verse 22). Left to their own lights, men grope about in this darkness (verses 24–25). In this respect, Job’s friends are no wiser than he.

The difference between the two cases is not a matter of wisdom, therefore, any more than it is a matter of justice. The difference between Job and his friends is that Job is suffering, while they are “at ease” (verse 5). They have been using this advantage solely to pass judgment on a suffering human being, who differs from them only by the fact that he is suffering. This is a great moral offense.

Monday, September 12

2 Kings 21: Manasseh (687-642) and Amon (642-640), the two kings of Judah separating Hezekiah and Josiah, make no positive contribution to the spiritual health of the realm. Their careers are contained in this single and uninspiring chapter.

The infidelities of Manasseh stand in vivid contrast with the religious reforms of his father. In addition to reintroducing Phoenician Baalism—including child sacrifice (verse 6)—Manasseh brings in Assyrian astral worship (verse 5). In addition, fortune telling becomes prevalent.

There was a great deal of violence; Manasseh “shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (verse 16). Josephus must have had this text in mind when he wrote that Manasseh “barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem overflowed with blood” (Antiquities. 10.3.1).

The most notable of the prophets murdered by Manasseh was the great Isaiah. According to an account recorded in the apocryphal story, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, Manasseh caused the prophet to be sawn in two. A passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, because it mentions this detail, is often thought to refer to the era of Manasseh: “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword” (11:36–37).

The Bible-reader is stunned by this massive apostasy within a single generation. What can account for so thorough and swift a fall from grace? It is likely that it should be ascribed to several causes, but I suggest that among those causes should be counted a certain erroneous and unwarranted sense of security, nearly tantamount to superstition and magic. When Manasseh was but a child, Jerusalem had been miraculously delivered from Sennacherib’s siege. That deliverance, which had arrived as though out of nowhere, gave rise in many minds to the persuasion that Jerusalem was invincible and would never fall to the enemy. Once saved, Jerusalem would always be saved.

The Chronicler gives more qualified account of Manasseh. According to this source, the king had a conversion in his later years, after the Assyrians took him captive and imprisoned him for a while (Second Chronicles 33:11-17). This account is strengthened by an Assyrian source called The Prism of Esarhaddon. According to this archival document, the new emperor, Esarhaddon (680–669), compelled the kings in the western part of the Assyrian Empire to come to the capital of Assyria to render their obeisance. The Prism names all these kings, among whom was Me-na-si-i Ia-ú-di, Manasseh of Judah.

In 640 Manasseh’s son, Amon, is slain in revolt after a very brief reign.

Tuesday, September 13

2 Kings 22: When Josiah was born in 648 BC, the geopolitical prospects of the Kingdom of Judah did not appear too bad, for the Assyrian Empire, which had long oppressed the area, was on the verge of the decline that would bring it down before the century’s end.

From a religious perspective, nonetheless, the situation in Judah was bad indeed. Manasseh (687–642 BC), the very wicked king who was Josiah’s grandfather, had established Canaanite and Assyrian worship in Jerusalem itself, resorting even to the sacrifice of one of his sons, an act for which he was roundly denounced (2 Kings 21:1–15). From an apocryphal work called The Ascension of Isaiah (5:1–14), we know that the atrocities of this depraved king included his causing the Prophet Isaiah to be sawn in half (cf. Hebrews 11:37). Besides the melancholy biblical account of his reign, Manasseh is mentioned several times in Assyrian records, always as a subject king of the Assyrian Empire.

Josiah was six years old when his grandfather died in 642, to be succeeded by the boy’s unpopular father, Amon (2 Kings 21:19–26; Second Chronicles 33:21–25). When the latter was assassinated two years later, little Josiah acceded to the throne at age eight.

We know almost nothing of his early regency period, but Josiah soon became his own man. In 632, near his sixteenth birthday, he experienced a religious conversion, pointing him in a new direction. Four years later, on assuming the full powers of the throne, Josiah began a large-scale reform of the religious life of Judah, an ambitious project now rendered possible by the growing disarray of the Assyrian Empire (Second Chronicles 34:1–17). It was also in that very year that the Lord sent Jerusalem one of the greatest prophets, a young man named Jeremiah.

From a religious point of view, then, things were starting to look better.
Nonetheless, the best was yet to come. Among the features of Josiah’s reform was a thorough purging of the Jerusalem temple to rid it of all vestiges of idolatry. In 622, during the course of this work, the renovators discovered a very ancient manuscript, which historians identify as either the whole or central section of the Book of Deuteronomy. It had been lost for many years. After 622, therefore, Josiah had in hand a very specific text on which to base his continuing reform of Judah’s religious life. Point by point, he and his reformers began to implement the prescriptions of Deuteronomy (2 Chronicles 34:8–33), including the restoration of the Passover (35:1–19). For this reason, historians customarily refer to Josiah’s efforts as the Deuteronomic Reform.

Because several generations of “Deuteronomists” would continue to make that book the basis of Judah’s religious life, the ferment and effects of Josiah’s reform were to outlive the king himself. In the following century, those Deuteronomic scholars would serve as the backbone of Judah’s survival, and even flourishing, during the Babylonian Captivity. During that time of exile, it was under the impulse of Deuteronomic theology that they would edit and unify much of the historical material contained in the Bible.

The royal sponsorship of the Deuteronomic Reform came to an end, however, in the year 609. It happened in this way: As the Prophet Nahum had foretold, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612, but a good part of the defeated army survived. Moving north to Haran, at the top of the Fertile Crescent, this remnant continued to hold out for three years, waiting desperately for help expected from Egypt. In 609 Egypt’s new Pharaoh, Neco II, to whom it was obvious that his country’s advantage lay in stopping the rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, determined to go to the aid of those Assyrians.
With some Greek mercenaries, Neco moved up into Palestine, planning to join the Assyrians at Carchemish on the Euphrates. King Josiah of Judah, however, had ideas of his own. Knowing firsthand the evils of Assyria, he decided to throw in his lot with the Babylonians, so he led the army of Judah to meet Neco’s forces at the Megiddo pass. In the ensuing battle, the great Josiah was killed at age thirty-nine (Second Kings 23; Second Chronicles 35).

For Judah his passing was an unmitigated tragedy. The strong, devout Josiah was followed on the throne by a series of quislings, who governed an ever-diminishing nation until Jerusalem’s destruction in 587 BC.

Wednesday, September 14

2 Kings 23: Although repentance is profitable to the soul, Holy Scripture does not regard it as sufficient to undo the historical effects of sin. That is to say, by repentance I can change the course of my life—and my eternal destiny—but the bad things I have done, and the good things left undone, will still continue to run on their own. My repentance will not undo them as actions in history. Such is the practical meaning, I take it, of the adage, factum non fit non factum—”a thing done cannot become a thing not done.” It can be repented of, it can be forgiven, but it cannot be undone.

This truth about repentance was made clear at the discovery of the Deuteronomic Scroll in 622. When this document caused Josiah and his friends to realize how far Judah had wandered into sin, they immediately repented. The prophetess Huldah, consulted on this matter, assured them that the Lord accepted their repentance, but she also warned that their repentance would not avert the historical effects of so much sin. The accumulated transgressions of numerous generations would still bring about the destruction of the nation. Part of Josiah’s repentance was an acceptance of the divine judgment on the nation.

An integral component of repentance is the grace to leave in God’s provident hands the historical judgment of the manifold evil effects of our sins. We repentant sinners make such amends as we can (cf. Luke 19:8), but none of us can even know—much less avert—all the evil consequences our sins have unleashed in history. These things, once done, have already taken on a dynamism of their own, and God will deal with them according to His own wise judgment.

This truth about repentance pertains, not only to the bad things we have done, but also to the required good things we have failed to do. Only in our later years—long after we made the major decisions that governed our lives—do some of us come to realize how many possibilities we have squandered and how few duties we have fulfilled. But now it is too late: our education is long over, our children have already been raised, further opportunities are few, and our neglected friends lie cold in the tomb.

We find ourselves unable to undo any of it. We weep, with Joel, for “the years the locust hath consumed, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm.” We are obliged simply to accept the judgment of God, following the insight of the Psalmist: iudicia Domini vera, iustificata in semetipsa—“the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

Repentance, then, as a turning from sin to God, involves more than a release from personal guilt. It means, also, handing over to the Lord’s judgment and providential care the countless historical effects of our myriad failures. That is to say, repentance places not only our individual lives but also our larger destiny—the myriad links that join us to the rest of mankind—under God’s sovereign governance of history. Repentance makes us participes rei, sharers of a thing vastly larger than ourselves.

Josiah’s death at Megiddo in 609—a bare thirteen years after the discovery of the Deuteronomic Scroll—was the beginning of all the punishments Judah would undergo as the binding historical legacy of its many infidelities. Jeremiah saw it and wept.

Thursday, September 15

2 Kings 24: The opening verses of this chapter are tied to the closing section of chapter 23, which gave an outline of the reign of King Jehoiakim/Eliakim (609—December 7, 598). He was not a good king (cf. Jeremiah 22).

The Assyrian Empire effectively ended in 609 with the fall of Nineveh to the forces assembled by the Babylonians under Nabopolassar (626-605). His crown prince was a military leader named Nebuchadnezzar, who commanded the Babylonian forces that defeated the Egyptian army at the Battle of Carchemish.

On the death of Nabopolassar on August 16, 605 this Nebuchadnezzar assumed the throne and ruled until 562. He is remembered in Holy Scripture chiefly as the villain in the fall of Jerusalem and the ensuing Babylonian Captivity. The accounts of his reign in Daniel picture an unusual display of megalomania.

The two prophets contemporary to Nebuchadnezzar—Jeremiah and Ezekiel—call him “Nebuchadrezzar,” which better reflects his name in Akkadian sources: Nabu-kudurri-usur. Since we are considering him in the Book of Kings, however, we will follow the spelling of this later source.

After his conquest of the Holy Land in 604, Nebuchadnezzar apparently made an annual campaign into the region in order to collect the imposed taxation personally. The present chapter indicates that King Jehoiakim paid this tribute for three years and then rebelled (verse 1). This detail is significant, suggesting that something changed in 601.

This was the case: In 601 Nebuchadnezzar moved against Egypt and was soundly defeated by Pharaoh Neco II (610-594). After this defeat, Nebuchadnezzar left the region and returned to Babylon, where he spent the next eighteen months rebuilding his army. Feeling stronger, Nebuchadnezzar first defeated other states in and around the Fertile Crescent in 599-598, prior to moving against Judah (cf. Jeremiah 49:28-33).

According to the Babylonian Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar’s army took up siege against Jerusalem on November 28, 598, and the city fell to that army on March 13, 597. During that interval, King Jehoiakim died on December 7, 598. He was succeeded by his 18-year-old son, Jehoiakin, who ruled only until the fall of Jerusalem three months later. When the city fell to the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiakin’s uncle, Zedekiah, king in his place, and Judah was once again subject to the throne in Babylonia.

In the hope that the citizens of Jerusalem would be more compliant to Babylon in the future, Nebuchadnezzar took much of its leadership into captivity at the other end of the Fertile Crescent. This large group included a young priest named Ezekiel.

Friday September 16

2 Kings 25: Jerusalem continued to be rebellious to Babylon. Or, more exactly, it courted favor with Egypt, where the XXVIth Dynasty was still trying to challenge Babylon’s hegemony over the western half of the Fertile Crescent. This was certainly Jeremiah’s reading of the political situation, and he fell into strong official unpopularity by speaking against it. The pharaoh at that time was Apries, or Hophra, 589-570.

Within a decade, Nebuchadnezzar became weary of it all. He once again laid siege to Jerusalem, this time for 19 months. This lengthy siege probably means he needed most of his army to keep the Egyptians at bay (cf. Jeremiah 37:5). The king’s flight from Jerusalem during the famine was the first sign the city was soon to fall. He was captured and forced to witness the execution of his sons before his eyes were put out. Jerusalem fell a month later.

Solomon’s Temple was not destroyed in battle. It was deliberately razed, rather, when the fighting was all over. This destruction came from a cool decision and represented Babylon’s determination that Judah would no longer be even a little power on the earth. The treasures of the Temple were carried away to Babylon, as well, and Judah’s official leaders were duly executed. Over the region Nebuchadnezzar appointed a governor, Gedaliah, who befriended Jeremiah. After the departure of the Babylonian forces, this governor was assassinated by revolutionaries, who abducted Jeremiah to Egypt; these details are related at great length in Jeremiah 40.

The author of Kings, who wrote much later, knew that the fall of Jerusalem was not the real end of the story, even though it marked the end of the period of the kings. This writer knew that Jerusalem was restored in the next generation; he knew also of the fall of Babylon itself in 539. Although these later events lay outside of the scope of the present book, the author of Kings was well aware of them.

It is hardly surprising, then, that he chose to end Kings on a somewhat more positive note. He records that King Jehoiakin, deposed a decade earlier and currently in captivity in Babylon, was liberated from prison and permitted to spend the rest of his life at the Babylonian court, along with other captured kings who owed their very lives to the throne in that court. In that court he finally became somebody. Indeed, when we recall that poor Jehoiakin had reigned, in fact, for a bare three months, there is something distinctly pathetic in learning that, in the latter part of his life, he received “a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon.” Inscribed on clay tablets in the palace at Babylon, the actual figures of Jehoiakin’s regular “allowance” are still preserved, along with other receipts and inventory lists of the time.

Jehoikin’s change in fortune came in 561 as a kind gesture from the new Babylonian Emperor, Evilmerodach, or Awil-Marduk, who was assassinated the next year. Nebuchadnezzar was, in fact, the last of Babylon’s significant kings. Evilmerodach was succeed by Neriglissar (559-556), and he by Nabonidus (555-539). This last attempted a religious reform; favoring the moon god, Sin, over the sun god, Marduk, Nabonidus alienated the populace and especially the priests of Marduk. He fled to Arabia, leaving his son, Belshazzar on the throne to read the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5) and to face the advance of Cyrus and his Persians.