January 13 – January 20, 2023

Friday, January 13

Romans 4.13-25: Suddenly, and as though by parenthesis, Paul asserts that “the Law brings about wrath.” This means that the Mosaic Law, by adding to man’s moral responsibilities, increases the opportunities for further transgressions, and these transgressions, in turn, evoke the divine wrath. That is to say, the Mosaic Law actually makes man’s moral situation worse!

Consequently, the Law cannot be the instrument of man’s salvation. Paul barely introduces this idea here; he will elaborate it at some length in chapter seven.

Paul here begins to treat the theme of death, a topic he had introduced in 1:32. From this point on, the arguments of the Epistle to the Romans will be directed at the theme of death, expressed in both the noun Thanatos (a word found in Romans twenty-two times) and the adjective nekros (found in Romans sixteen times). Paul commences his long argument that man’s justification has to do with Christ’s victory over death. That is to say, man is justified by the power of Christ’s resurrection, unleashed into this world by the Gospel.

Abraham, exemplifying salvific faith, believed in the God who could make fruitful his own “dead” flesh and the “dead” womb of Sarah (verses 17-19; Genesis 17:15-21). Paul compares this to God’s calling all of Creation out of nothingness. This call is the promise of the Resurrection, as he will make clear at the end of the chapter.

This ascription of righteousness to faith pertains not only to Abraham but also to us his children (verses 23-24), if we live by that same faith. Concretely, this means faith in the God who raises the dead, symbolized in the “dead” bodies of Abraham and Sarah. The God who raises Jesus from the dead is the same God who called all things from nothingness into being.

Following Paul’s lead, early Christians readily related the Resurrection to Creation: the Resurrection of Christ is perceived as the definitive vindication of the created world. For example, slightly after the year 200, Tertullian wrote: “This is the promise He makes even to our flesh, and it has been His will to deposit within us this pledge of His own virtue and power, in order that we may believe that He has, in fact, awakened the universe out of nothing, as if it had been dead, in the obvious sense of its previous non-existence for the purpose of its coming into existence’ (Against Hermogenes 34).

The Creator who called into being things that were not is the same God who is triumphant over death, the death that entered this world by sin. Man’s justification consists, not only in the removal of man’s sins but in the gift of incorruptibility, which conquers death.

We, like Abraham, place our faith in the God who brings life from death, and we are justified through this faith. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, therefore, for our justification, to effect our righteousness (verse 25; 1 Corinthians 15:45).

Saturday, January 14

Hebrews 7.1-10: The Old Testament provides a genealogy, at least in brief, for most of its “persons of the drama.” The clear exception is Melchizedek, who suddenly enters the biblical story in Genesis 14 and just as abruptly leaves it. Nothing whatever is said of his ancestry, the rest of his life, or his death.

Melchizedek simply appears “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life” (Hebrews 7:3). In fact, Genesis 14 tells us only five things about him.

First, Melchizedek was a king. “Salem,” the city of his kingship, was an old name for Jerusalem (Psalm 76[75]:2). Indeed, the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, took Melchizedek to be the founder (ho protos ktisas) of the holy city (The Jewish War 6.438).

Speculating on the etymology of Melchizedek’s name (melek-hassedeq),
Josephus calls him a “righteous king” (basileus dikaios) (Antiquities 1.10.2). Exploiting the resemblance of the name “Salem” to
the Hebrew word for “peace,” shalom, the author of the Epistle to the
Hebrews calls Melchizedek “king of peace.” Like Josephus, he sees etymological
symbolism in Melchizedek’s own name, calling him “king of righteousness” (basileus dikaiosynes) (7:2).

Second, Melchizedek was “the priest of God Most High.” In fact, he is the first man to whom Holy Scripture gives the title “priest” (kohen), and it is Melchizedek’s priesthood that receives the greater attention in the Bible. For example, while the Book of Psalms speaks of the Messiah’s kingship as derived from David (Psalm 78[77]:70; 89[88]:3–4, 20, 39, 45; 110[109]:1–3), the Messiah’s priesthood is said to be “according to the order of Melchizedek” (110[109]:4).

Melchizedek was “the first to serve as priest to God” (ierasato to Theo protos), Josephus wrote, and long before Solomon built a temple
IV. the saints in worship at Jerusalem, Melchizedek had already done so (to hieron protos deimamenos). Indeed, Josephus traces the very name of “Jerusalem” (in Greek Hierosolyma) to the “priest of Salem” (hierus Salem) (The Jewish War 6.438).

Following the lead of Psalm 110(109) (which is assigned to be prayed today), the author of Hebrews sees in the priesthood of Melchizedek the “order” (taxsis) of the definitive priesthood of Christ the Lord (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17). The Bible’s very silence with respect to the death of that ancient priest of Salem is taken as a prefiguration of the “unchangeable priesthood” (7:24) of God’s Son, to whom Melchizedek was “made like” (7:3). The latter was a living
prophecy of the definitive Priest who “has become a surety of a better covenant” (7:22).

Third, Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, just as Abraham’s children gave tithes to the Levitical priests (7:8–10). That detail argues for the superiority of the “order of Melchizedek” over the “order of Aaron” (7:11).

Fourth, Melchizedek blessed Abraham, saying: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand” (Genesis 14:19–20). This priestly blessing too indicates the superiority of the “order of Melchizedek,” inasmuch as “the lesser is blessed by the better” (Hebrews 7:7).

Fifth, Melchizedek “brought out bread and wine” (Genesis 14:18). His offering, moreover, was recognized as a priestly act; that is to say, Melchizedek did this precisely “because he was” a priest (as is clear in the Septuagint’s en de and the Vulgate’s erat enim).

Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine, of course, was a type and prefiguration of what transpired that night when God’s priestly Son took the loaf of bread and the cup of wine into His holy and venerable hands and identified them as His Body and Blood. This is how the Christian Church has always interpreted the act of that first priest, Melchizedek, “who gave the wine and bread, the sanctified food, as a type of the Eucharist (eis typon Eucharistias)” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.25). Melchizedek was the “type of Christ, and he offered the same gifts that prefigured the Mystery” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis 36.3). “Who had the bread and wine?” asked Ambrose of Milan. “Not Abraham,” he answered, “but Melchizedek. Therefore he is the author of the Sacraments” (De Sacramentis 4.10). The living memory of Melchizedek thus abides deeply in the worship of the Christian Church.

Sunday, January 15

Hebrews 7.11-28: Some eight centuries after Melchizedek, David became his successor on the throne of Jerusalem. David certainly did have begats, and much was written of his ancestry, as well as his death.

David knew, however, that an eternal promise was attached to the throne on which he sat. God had sworn with an oath that the royal house of David would last forever. The Lord had promised that, as long as the sun and moon endure, so long would last the throne of David. In a way that David himself could not understand, David’s Son would be the Son of God: “I will be to Him a Father,? and He shall be to Me a Son” (2 Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 1:5).

Thus, in the hymn used for the enthronement of the Davidic kings, reference was made to Melchizedek, that everlasting king who had neither beginning of days nor end of life: “The Lord has sworn / And will not repent, / “You are a priest forever / According to the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110 [109]:4; Hebrews 5:6; 7:17,21).

In an argument with the scholars of Holy Scripture, Jesus cited this psalm to indicate the greater depth of its meaning: “Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, ‘How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, / Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” Therefore David himself calls Him “Lord”; how is He then his Son?’” (Mark 12:35-37). This exegetical question, which was quite lost on those to whom Jesus addressed it, prompted Christians to examine that psalm in the full light of Christ’s full self-revelation. As they grasped the point of the question, this psalm became ever more important in the development of early Christology (cf. Mark 16:19; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12).

Genesis 15: This, the first of two accounts of God’s covenant with Abram, is arguably the more dramatic and colorful. Here we also find two expressions appearing for the first time in Holy Scripture: (1) “the word of the Lord came to . . .” (verse 1), and (2) Abram “believed (’aman) in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (verse 6). That first expression will be especially prominent the Bible’s prophetic literature, and the second, which introduces the theme of righteousness by faith in God’s promise, will dominate much of the New Testament, particularly the Pauline corpus. Indeed, St. Paul wrote the first Christian commentary on this verse, Romans 4:1-5.

At this point in the story, Abram is not called upon to do anything. He is summoned simply to live by trust in God’s promising word. Eventually, of course, he will be called upon to do certain things, but the important point that St. Paul sees in this passage is that already, before he has done anything, Abram is called righteous. From this fact St. Paul argues that godly righteousness consists radically in that profound trust in God known in the Bible as faith. This faith is now explicitly spoken of for the first time in Holy Scripture. Hence, the importance of Genesis 15 for Christian theology. This is why Abraham is called “our father” in faith; his faith stands at the door of the history of salvation.

For St. Paul Abraham’s righteousness, prior to the works of the Mosaic covenant, became the point of departure for examining the Christian’s relationship to the Law of Moses, which was one of the most difficult and practical questions raised in New Testament times. For example, it was important to St. Paul that Abraham, at this point in the story, has not yet received the command to be circumcised (Romans 4:9-12); that command will not come until Chapter 17. That is to say, Abraham was declared righteous before circumcision.

Monday, January 16

Genesis 16: Like the precedent referred to in 15:2-4, the “legal fiction” found here in verses 1-3 (and later on in the Jacob cycle) was never part of Israelite law, though both customs are well attested otherwise in Mesopotamian literature of the first half of the second millennium before Christ — that is, the very period under discussion. This fact is irrefutable evidence of the historicity of both of those narratives.
Hagar was one of the Egyptian slaves that Pharaoh gave to Abram back in 12:16. The idea of Abram’s begetting children by this younger woman was Sarai’s, but when things backfire (verse 4) Sarai lays all the blame on Abram (verse 5)! The latter just shrugs his shoulders and tells his wife to handle the matter (verse 6).

The slave Hagar, being an Egyptian, heads south in her flight, though we know from another contemporary document, Hammurabi’s Code, that she endangered her life by running away. She travels the many miles from Hebron to Shur, southwest of Beersheba, which was a pretty good distance for a pregnant woman to walk, and there she encounters the “angel of the Lord” (malek Adonai), an expression that appears here for the first time in Holy Scripture (verse 7). The angel’s promise to Hagar (verses 10-12) stands parallel to the promises that Abram himself received in the Chapters 13 and 15. Although she herself is a slave, the angel tells Hagar that her son will not be.

It is a source of wonderment to this slave that she has been noticed by God (verse 13) in this story of God’s concern for the poor, the simple, and the persecuted. Hagar discovers her worth, when God’s sends His angel to care for her. God appears already as the champion of the downtrodden, as He will be especially portrayed in the Bible’s great social prophets.

What should be said about Abram’s taking of this slave girl as a sort of second wife? We observe that God did not tell him to do this. It was Sarai’s idea. The whole project, that is to say, was of the flesh, not of the Spirit. It is no great thing for a young woman to conceive and bear a child, but a great thing is what God had in mind to do. Sarai’s plan was a classic case of man interfering with the plans of God. This was simply a work of the flesh, as St. Paul observed (Galatians 4:21-25).

In this respect, furthermore, the Apostle to the Gentiles saw an allegorical prophecy of the situation of the Jews and Christians with regard to Abraham. The Jews, he argued, were children of Abraham is a fleshly way, unlike Abraham’s spiritual paternity of Christians (4:26-28). Christians, not being slaves, are not children of Hagar, whereas the Jews, unfamiliar with freedom in Christ, are still slaves to the flesh and the Law (4:31). They are the children of Hagar! This idea closes off a chapter of Galatians that began with the transformation from slavery to freedom (3:29—4:7).

Tuesday, January 17

Matthew 6.25-34: The “therefore” of verse 25 means that the following verses are a conclusion of the message enunciated in the preceding section of this chapter. If we are not to covet (as we were told in the preceding verses), we are also not to worry; the disciplining of inappropriate desires should diminish inappropriate anxiety. God provides all necessary things for those who seek first His kingdom (or, to put it differently, who love Him — cf. Romans 8:28). Except for Luke 12:28, the adjective “of little faith” (oligopistos) is found only Matthew; besides here in 6:30, it also appears in 8:26; 14:31; 16:6.

Hebrews 9.1-10: Our author mentions the Menorah in the sanctuary. This adornment has seven branches, which symbolizes the perfection of light. That is to say, it symbolizes the divine light, of which St. John said, “This then is the message which we have heard from Him and declare unto you: that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”

We worship God in order to remain in the light and to drive all darkness from our minds and hearts. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

The light is also the first of God’s creatures, which is a good reason for worshipping on Sunday, the first day of creation. This is the day on which the Lord said, “Let there be light.” This original light was not only a fact; it was also a promise, because it pointed toward a greater Sunday and a more glorious light.

Genesis 17: According to the full Christian understanding of the Holy Scriptures, the joy of Abraham and Sarah at the promised birth of Isaac was burdened with prophecy, for his miraculous begetting foretold a later conception more miraculous still. Isaac was, in truth, a type and pledge of “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). And Mary, mother of this Newer Isaac, having conceived Him in virginity just days before, made perfect her responding song of praise by remembering the mercy that God “spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:55).

Did not Abraham himself anticipate with joy the later coming of that more distant Seed? Surely so, for even our Newer Isaac proclaimed, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Like Moses (5:46), Isaiah (12:41), and David (Matthew 22:43), Abraham was gifted to behold, in mystic vision, the final fulfillment of that primeval word, “But My covenant will I establish with Isaac” (Genesis 17:21).

Wednesday, January 18

Genesis 18: Two scenes fill this chapter. The first is Abraham’s reception of “the Lord” in the guise of “three men,” whom the Christian Church has always pictured as three angels. These Three were either the prophetic prefiguration or the appearance of the Persons of the Holy Trinity in human/angelic form, according to the earliest Christian readings of the text. Because the prophetic promise given about Isaac in this chapter is definitively fulfilled only in the New Testament, it was appropriate that on that occasion God should appear as that Trinity of distinct Persons which the New Testament proclaims Him to be.

St. Ambrose of Milan thus commented on this scene in the second half of the fourth century: “Prepared to receive strangers, faithful to God, dedicated to ministering and prompt in His service, Abraham beheld the Trinity in a type. He supplemented hospitality with religious fealty, when beholding the Three he worshipped the One, and preserving the distinction of the Persons, he addressed One Lord, offering to Three the honor of his gift, while acknowledging but a single Power. It was not learning that spoke in him but grace, and although he had not learned, he believed in a way superior to us who have learned. Since no one had distorted the representation of the truth, he sees the Three but worships the Unity. He offers three measures of fine meal while slaying but one victim, considering that a single sacrifice is sufficient but a triple gift; a single victim, but a threefold offering” (Faith in the Resurrection 2.96).

The second scene in this chapter portrays Abraham’s supplication on behalf of Sodom, the city where Lot resides. Knowing that the Lord is prepared to destroy that city for its wickedness, and fearing for the welfare of his nephew and his family, Abraham bravely endeavors to “arrange a deal” with the Lord, in hopes of having the city spared. In one of the most colorful scenes in a very colorful book, Abraham plays the part of the Bedouin trader, a type commonly met in the Middle East, attempting to arrange a lower price by the process of haggling. Particularly good in this art, Abraham works from a “price” of fifty just men down to a mere ten. He thus serves as the very model of fervent intercessory prayer, unafraid of “pressing a point” with God. Alas, Abraham knows that there are not even ten just men left in Sodom. Before he can suggest a lower figure, however, the Lord abruptly breaks off the negotiations and departs (verse 33). Sodom is doomed.

Thursday, January 19

Hebrews 10.1-10: Hebrews 10:1-10: This interpretation of Psalm 40 (39) comes in the center of the major argument of the Epistle to the Hebrews: the heavenly significance of the Lord’s death on the Cross. As we have seen, the author appeals to the Mosaic prescriptions about the ancient Tabernacle to elaborate that significance. These prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, he says, possessed only “a shadow of the good things to come.” Offered “continually year by year,” they were not able to “make those who approach perfect” (10:1). That is to say, those sacrifices did not really take away sins, and their effectiveness depended entirely on the Sacrifice of the Cross, of which they were only a foreshadowing. Indeed, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (v. 4).

In support of this thesis, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire / . . . In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin / You had no pleasure” (vv. 5, 6). In fact, this theme appears rather often in the Old Testament itself. Isaiah, for example, and other prophets frequently attempted to disillusion those of their countrymen who imagined that the mere offering of cultic worship, with no faith, no obedience, no change of heart, could be acceptable to God.

The author of Hebrews, therefore, is simply drawing the proper theological conclusion when he writes: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (v. 11). What God seeks, rather, is the perfect obedience of faith, and such an obedience means the total gift of self, not the mere sacrificial slaughter of some beast.

This obedience of Christ our Lord is a matter of considerable importance in the New Testament. He Himself declared that He came, not to seek His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him (John 5:30). This doing of the Father’s will had particular reference to His Passion, in which “He . . . became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). This was the obedience manifested in our Lord’s prayer at the very beginning of the Passion: “Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

Christ’s own obedience to God’s will is also the key to Palm 40, and Hebrews goes on to quote the pertinent verses, referring them explicitly to the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus the Lord: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, / But a body You have prepared for Me. / In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin / You had no pleasure. / Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— / In the volume of the book it is written of Me— / To do Your will, O God’” (vv. 5–7).

The body “prepared” for Christ in the Incarnation became the instrument of His obedience to that “will” of God by which we are redeemed and rendered holy: “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (vv. 10, 14).

The various sacrifices of the Old Testament have now found their perfection in the one self-offering of Jesus the Lord. Again the author of Hebrews comments: “Previously saying, ‘Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them’ (which are offered according to the law), then He said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God’” (vv. 8, 9).

The “He” of this psalm, then, according to the New Testament, is Christ the Lord. We pray it properly when we pray it as His own words to the Father. The “will” of God to which He was obedient was that “will” to which He referred when in the Garden He prayed: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

This self-oblation of our Lord’s obedience to God is not simply a feature of this particular psalm; it is the interpretive door through which we pray all of the psalms. The “Your will be done” of the Lord’s Prayer is likewise the summation of the entire Book of Psalms, and what ultimately makes Christian sense of the Psalter.

Friday, January 20

Matthew 7.21-29: Matthew 7:22 closes the Sermon on the Mount with a reference to the day of judgment, which will also be the case in the fifth and last of the Lord’s great sermons in Matthew, the discourse on the Last Things (25:31-46). The reference to the building by a wise man puts the reader in mind of Solomon, remembered in Holy Scripture as both a wise man and a builder. It is the day of judgment which will reveal whether or not a man has wisely built on a strong foundation (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Hebrews 10.11-25: Whereas the Old Testament sacrifices were many, the New Testament sacrifice is unique: “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices . . . But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” In the previous chapter we read that “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (9:28).

This word “once” (hapachs) is found in Hebrews 8 times, more than all the other New Testament books put together. This hapachs, “once,” is contrasted with pollakis, “many times” (9:25-26).

This “once” contrasted with “many” is related to the “seated” contrasted with “standing.” The “once” and “seated” indicate finality and fulfillment—the end of history—whereas the “standing” and “many” suggest an ongoing process.

Genesis 20: This chapter sounds rather familiar to the story in Genesis 12, where we also learned of the beauty of Sarah and the disposition of men to look upon her with a measure of “coveting.” In the present instance, we may bear in mind, Sarah is almost ninety years old and pregnant. This fact says either a great deal of Sarah’s beauty or Abimelech’s preferences in women.
We already learned a great deal about Abraham’s powers of persuasion when he turned to God in prayer. This was hardly surprising, because the Scriptures call him “the friend of God” (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; Daniel 3:35 [LXX]; Judith 8:22 [Vulgate]; James 2:23), and God, like the rest of us in this respect, delights in doing favors for His friends. As God’s friend, Abraham was blessed with what the Bible calls parresia, confidence or even boldness (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), in his approach to the Lord on matters of concern. Like the stalwart widow in the Gospel parable on this subject (Luke 18:1-8), Abraham could be rather persistent, perhaps a tad nagging, when he brought some point of concern to the attention of the Almighty. Accustomed to that mercantile dickering ever common in the Middle East, Abraham knew how to chaffer his way to a bargain, and he incorporated this skill too into his prayer, as it were. We saw this power of his intercessory prayer in Genesis 18:16-33.

Thus in the present chapter, even after God declared to Abimelech, “Indeed, you are a dead man,” He went on to promise that Abraham “will pray for you and you shall live” (verses 3,7). And, indeed, “Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech” (verse17).