September 15 – September 22, 2023

Friday, September 15

Judges 16: Two facts, recorded in the first three verses of this chapter, prepare for the rest of the drama, in which Samson will be forced to fight to the death.

The first concerns Samson’s strength. Samson is unwilling to press the advantage he has by reason of his superior strength. He toys with the men of Gaza, but ultimately he simply leaves them alone. He will learn that the Philistines are not an enemy to be tolerated.

The second concerns Samson’s weakness, which is his addiction to the company of women. This weakness will lead finally to his downfall.

In all the previous judges we read that So-and-so judged Israel for X number of years, and then, after his death, Israel went a-whoring after false gods. In Samson’s case, however, we are told that he judged Israel for twenty years and then he went a-whoring. That is to say, Samson has become the symbol of Israel itself.

The men of Gaza presumed that they had Samson trapped. The city gates were locked, and they could deal with him in the morning. Samson not only opened the gates, he carried them a great distance, uphill all the way, leaving Gaza open to attack.

The time of Samson’s deliverance and exploit comes at midnight, a time that may remind us of Pharaoh, Moses, Egypt, and the Exodus. There is also a parallel with the opening of the Book of Joshua, where there was also an incident involving the city gates and the residence of a whore.

Samson has become careless in his declining years. He has begun to play with danger. He no long flees evil, as God would have us do. He teases his own soul, as it were, even as he teases Delilah and the Philistines. Every time he plays around, however, there is a lurking danger. His attackers are just out of sight, concealed in the inner room. He should remember the Lord’s warning to Cain with respect to temptation, “Sin lieth at the door.” Like Cain, Samson is within the reach of danger, but he continues to act unwisely, trusting too much in himself, as though his own memory no longer contains the record of his past failures. Samson acts blindly, even before the loss of his eyes.

In his whole relationship to Delilah, Samson was playing with death. The one thing Samson never did in his life was to flee. There is a proper time to flee, however. In the hour of temptation, flight is the proper path. Samson was blind, not recognizing the presence of temptation. He treated the whole thing as a game.

In fact, however, Samson was a dead man from the hour he entered the prostitute’s house. He was already walking in blindness. Delilah “annoyed him to death,” says the Sacred Text, in a rich ironical expression. Proverbs 2 says of the adulterous woman that “her house sinks down to death, and her tracks lead to the dead.”

The free man has foolishly handed himself over to bondage. Samson will spend the rest of his miserable existence grinding the grain of a false and foreign god.

The return of Samson’s hair signifies the growth of repentance in his mind. Having lost his eyes, Samson must find a new light in his heart. This discovery will lead him to death unto self.

The Philistines never knew when to quit (verses 21-31). We must not fail to observe here the parallel between the capture of Samson and the capture of the Ark in 1 Samuel 5. In both cases, the stories describe a battle between Israel’s God and the Philistine god, Dagan. In each case Dagan is humiliated by capturing more than he can handle. In both cases his apparent victory is the condition and cause of his defeat. Dagan captures more than he can hold.

Both of these instances are types and foreshadowings of the Christian salvation, in which Death takes captive the Victim on the cross but cannot hold Him. The apparent victory of Death is the cause and condition of the overthrow of Death. Dagan and Death are the same thing.

Samson is also a type of Christ, of course. Both are sold for silver, both are betrayed with a kiss, both die with a prayer on their lips, both are mocked in their blindness: “And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, ‘Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?’ And many other things they blasphemously spoke against Him” (Luke 22:64).

Saturday, September 16

Judges 17: The final five chapters of Judges form a sort of appendix, to show how bad things had become just prior to the rise of the monarchy. It was a period of great decline, and these stories serve to explain why Israel at last decided to want a king to rule over them. Israel’s lack of a king is mentioned five times in these five chapters.

Indeed, we perceive a decline even in the quality of the judges themselves. The list had started with the heights represented by Ehud, Deborah, and Gideon, declining gradually to the depths of Jephthah and Samson.

The present chapter begins an account of the failure of the Levites, on whose ministry the spiritual life of Israel depended so much. These were the spiritual guardians of the people. The apostate Levite introduced in this chapter was, in fact, a descendent of Moses!

We also see in this chapter the moral failure of a mother. When we began with the book with Deborah, “a mother in Israel,” we hardly expected things to end so badly.

If we compare this story with the Bible’s earlier idolatry of the Golden Calf, we see a decline from gold to silver. Even the idolatry is cheaper. Everything is declining!

The Levite described here is very typical of a certain kind of clergyman, who fails in his duties as a pastor because he finds it more profitable to become the domestic chaplain of a wealthy family. It happens all the time. We may contrast this Levite with the zealous Phineas.

Sunday, September 17

Judges 18: The Danites migrated north to get away from the Philistines (verses 1-6). These men, we must understand, were quitters, unwilling to fight for their proper inheritance. They sought and accepted the counsel of a man that was not qualified to give counsel. They already knew what they were supposed to do, but they wanted a “second opinion.” The Lord had said, “Go, conquer the land that I will give you,” but they wanted an easy out, after finding that the task was more difficult than they supposed. Consequently they sought out a teacher who would tell them what they wanted to hear.

This should not surprise us, because we already know that this Levite’s own ministry has already been based on compromise and half-measures. He was not, after all, even authorized for the ministry he has undertaken. He is a false teacher, who pretends to speak for God.

The Bible is full of criticism against false teachers and false prophets. They are chiefly to be recognizes by certain traits:

First, they like to please people. They have no authority beyond their ability to please people. Their authority is based entirely on their popularity.

Second, because they want to please people, they tend to say what people expect and want them to say.

Third, if challenged they appeal to their success.

The situation was described by the Apostle Paul: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

The Danites, who had insufficient courage to fight the Philistines, are quite prepared to invade a small defenseless people, who lived in an unwalled city (verses 7-21).

The Danites, that is to say, in addition to their other shortcomings, believed in cheap grace. They wanted the blessings of the covenant without the cost of the covenant.

Just as the Danites robbed somebody else’s land, they absconded with somebody else’s gods. Indeed, they wanted only such gods as they could control. Those were gods worthy of their cowardice.

They also discovered a clergyman who was worthy of them, a quisling that would do their bidding and tell them what they wanted to hear. This nameless man was a nobody, a clerical non-entity, a hierarchical cipher. Because the price was right, he went along with them.

Man-made gods, however, tend not to be very loyal to their makers. They are disposed to take on a life of their own. They declare their independence, as it were. Micah learned this the hard way.

The city of Dan became a center of idol-worship. Jeroboam I would eventually erect there one of his two golden calves.

Monday, September 18

Amos 1:1-15: The prophet’s condemnations begin with Syria, to the northeast of Israel, and its capital at Damascus (verses 3-5). This was the major military power in the region. By the time of Amos, Syria had waged numerous wars against Israel (1 Kings17—2 Kings 14), seizing territory and enslaving populations. Many of these battles had taken place in Gilead, the Transjordanian part of Israel, bordering Syria (verse 3). It had often been devastated (2 Kings 10:32-33).

Hazael (842-806), the founder of the current dynasty in Syria, had defeated the combined armies of Israel and Judah at the battle of Ramoth-gilead in 842 (1 Kings 22), annexing all of Transjordania. Benhadad III was his son.

The obscure mention of Kir (verse 5) apparently refers to the fall of Damascus to the Assyrians in 732, when this prophecy was fulfilled (2 Kings 16:9).

Amos now draws a line from Syria southwest to Philistia (verses 6-8), where four of its five ancient cities are still alive and engaged in evil. The prophet especially condemns its involvement in slave trade, a practice that was included in many ancient wars.

The mention of commerce in slavery then sends the mind of Amos up to the seagoing power of Phoenicia (verses 9-10). One recalls that it was largely Israel’s relations with Phoenicia, especially as enhanced by the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel (1 Kings 16:1) that had introduced so many moral defilements into the region.

Having previously traced a line southwest from Syria to Philistia, Amos now draws a line southeast from Phoenicia to Edom (verses 11-12), thus completing his “X that marks the spot.” Teman and Bozrah are two chief cities of the Edomites. This nation he condemns for betraying its ancient biological ties with Israel, inasmuch as the father of the Edomites was Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.

Having arrived in the south and just east of the Dead Sea, Amos next moves north along the east side of the Jordan to take account of Moab and Ammon. He begins with Ammon (verses 13-15). Its capital, Rabbah, is identical with the modern city of Amman, the capital of the nation of Jordan.

Judges 19: We come now to a horror story, a nightmare. There is a growing sense of darkness, beginning with physical darkness and going to moral darkness. The unfortunate woman is thrown out into the dark, where she is gang raped all night long. After enduring unspeakable brutality, she dies at daybreak.

There is a great irony, of course, in the fact that the Levite did not want to spend the night among pagans. He wanted to sleep secure, surrounded by his fellow Israelites. He lengthened his journey for this very purpose.

We must bear in mind that this is not a story about pagans. All the characters in this account are children of the covenant.

Gibeah, however, has become as bad as Sodom. Indeed, there are striking parallels between this story and that in Genesis 19.

There is also the cruelty of the Levite himself, who abandons his wife (for “concubine” in context means only a wife of inferior rank) to the cruelty of the mob. He has clearly not forgiven his wife for her infidelity. He is morally worse than she. This compromised individual is no man of God.

It is instructive that Hosea is the only prophet ever to mention this distressing incident at Gibeah, and he does so three times (5:8; 9:9; 10:9). Obviously Hosea, who also was married to an unfaithful wife, thought a great deal about this story and its potential lessons. Indeed, Hosea’s own treatment of his wife is a fruitful matter of contrast with the behavior of the Levite in this chapter.

Tuesday, September 19

Luke 9:18-27: In this prophecy of the Passion and summons to the Cross, Luke omits the objections of Peter as recorded in Matthew and Mark.

In the summons to the Cross, Luke’s version is most notable for including the word “daily.” This form of the summons links the Passion of Christ to the normal labor and stress of the Gospel life itself. As the companion of the Saint Paul, Luke had many occasions to observe how the Apostle to the Gentiles interpreted his own hardships to the event of the Cross. In the many trials associated with the Gospel ministry, Luke witnessed the truth of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “I die daily.”

Amos 2.1-16: Between Edom and Ammon sits the fertile plain of Moab. Its citizens, like those of Ammon, were descended from Lot, the offspring of his two daughters (Genesis 19:37-39). Hence they, like the Edomites, were related by blood to the children of Israel.

They, too, likewise fall under the censure of Amos (verses 1-3), specifically for the desecration of a tomb. Special mention is made of Kerioth, the cultic center of the Moabite god Chemosh.

Next comes the condemnation of Judah (verses 4-5), the nation of Amos himself (1:1). This condemnation differs from all the preceding in two ways. First, it does not single out any “social” sins, such as the slave trade (1:6,9), torture and slaughter (1:3), abortion (1:13), warfare (1:11), and tomb desecration (2:1). Second, offense of Judah is less specific. In the eyes of Amos, Judah has just lost its way in general.

At this point those listening to Amos may have breathed a sigh of relief. The prophet, having spoken against Judah, had reached the number seven (as we hope the attentive reader has noticed), the number of completion, so the listeners could be excused if they imagined him to be finished. So far, so good, they thought. Amos had done the complete number, but he had not mentioned them. In fact, they may have gone on to reflect, this Amos is making a lot of sense. He has identified all the bad guys, and it’s not us!

Imagine their shock, therefore, when Amos turned on them. He did so, moreover, for a full eleven verses, more than three times the length of any previous condemnation. No, said the prophet, Israel would not be spared. For its oppression of the poor (verse 6), its prostitution (verse 7), and its religious hypocrisy (verse 8), Israel deserved more punishment than those who had inhabited the Holy Land before them (verse 9).

No strength of their own would deliver Israel, he insisted. God is singularly unimpressed by the things that fallen man strives for, and He is not on the side of the strong (verses 13-16).

If the citizens of Israel felt, at this point, that Amos was laying it on a bit thick, they were not about to feel relieved. He still had seven more chapters to go.

Wednesday, September 20

Amos 3.1-15: This next section of Amos is made up of sermons that begin with “Hear!” (3:1—5:6) or “Woe!” (5:7—6:14). They are all directed against Israel, its capital Samaria sometimes serving as the equivalent.

The previous chapter had ended with a reminder of God’s redemptive favors toward His people (2:9-11). Israel is now chastised for failing to respond to the Lord’s generous call. They alone, of all the peoples of the earth had the Lord acknowledged as His own. Therefore, of them was more expected, and their punishment will be correspondingly more severe (verse 2).

We suspect that the people of Israel, at this point, challenged the credentials of Amos to address them in such terms, because we suddenly find him defending his mission to speak (verses 3-8). As we shall see, this was not the only occasion when Amos was thus challenged, and in this respect he puts the Christian reader in mind of the Apostle Paul who, beginning with the Epistle to the Galatians, seems always to have that preoccupation in at least the back of his mind. Prophets, apostles, pastors – they all have their credentials challenged from time to time.

In his own apologia Amos compares himself to a lion, which roars from instinct in certain situations. He can’t help it. When it is time to roar, the lion roars (cf. 1:2). It is the same with the prophet. When it is time to roar, he can’t help it. He roars, as though by instinct. And in the present time, Amos observes, there is plenty to roar about.

That point settled for the time being, the prophet returns to the attack, decrying the violence and oppression prevalent in Israel (verse 9), where a recent spate of prosperity has destroyed the people’s moral sense 9verrse 10).

From his experience as a shepherd (1:1), Amos knows about finding the body remnants of sheep devoured by wild beasts. This, he says, is an image of what will be left of Israel after the departure of the invader who is to come. His prophecy was fulfilled scarcely a generation later, when Israel fell to the Assyrian in 722.

Amos finishes this chapter with references to the luxurious lifestyle of Israelites that own more than one home, all extravagantly adorned (verse 15). His testimony on this point is amply illustrated and proved by the modern archeology on the sites of Israelite cities of the period.

Judges 21: The governing motif of this chapter is rebirth for the tribe of Benjamin.

It begins with a problem. The other Israelites have taken a vow not to let their daughters marry Benjaminites. This is the problem. No one had instructed them to make that vow, and now the vow has created a serious difficulty. They had taken the vow before they offered the sacrifice of reconciliation. They had acted with a split mind, doing things that were mutually opposed. This is an example of a rash vow, of the sort that Jephthah made. Such vows often enough create bigger problems than those they were supposed to solve. Anyway, this is the problem governing the present chapter, and the Israelites themselves caused it.

The story is full of irony, of course. For example, it ends at the shrine city of Shiloh, one of the ancient words for “peace.” The scene, however, is anything but peaceful.

How do we explain all this contradiction and activity at cross-purposes? The chapter’s final verse does the best it can for an explanation. Namely, everybody was following his own inclination and preference. “Everybody do what you want,” though a slogan not without popular appeal in our own times, is a formula for chaos, and what we have here toward the end of Judges is a chaotic situation.

Still, the Book of Judges finishes with an act of deliverance and a new birth. Benjamin is spared. It does not disappear from history, as did Simeon and Reuben. From the tribe of Benjamin, in fact, would come, in due course, the Apostle Paul. This final chapter, then, is about God’s fidelity even in the midst of irony and chaos.

Thursday, September 21

Amos 4: Continuing his theme on the life of the pampered, Amos turns next to idle wives of wealthy Israelites, whom he rather harshly compares to well fed cattle. (These comments arouse a suspicion that Amos was rarely invited to soirees and other get-togethers in these ladies’ homes. There is reason to believe that John the Baptist later had the same experience.)

It is particularly curious that Amos here mentions alcoholism as characteristic of this set. In this respect he sounds fairly contemporary to our own times, when alcoholism and drug addiction are commonly associated with wealthy, indolent women.

Naming the cities where it takes place, Amos next condemns the hypocritical worship of those that live for themselves and use worship in order to salve their dirt consciences (verses 4-5). We know that he preached these sermons at those very shrines (7:10-17), causing consternation among the worshippers. (These latter were also slow to invite Amos to visit their homes after the service.) We know that Isaiah, at about the same time, was making identical remarks about the worshippers further south (Isaiah 1:10-15).

On occasion the Lord has attempted, hitherto, to chasten and instruct His people by sending various trials upon them, all to no avail (verses 6-11). Five times in these verses Amos speaks of the people’s failure to “return.” Each opportunity missed, of course, renders future repentance more unlikely, and Israel is about to run out of further chances. Although God’s mercy has no limits, His patience does.

In considering these afflictions described by Amos, it is instructive to recall that these climatic and environmental conditions rose easily in the mind of a rural man (7:14), who knew by experience the truly precarious state of human survival. A delayed rain, an especially fertile year of locusts or caterpillars, and many a farmer has watched his crop wither or be devoured in an afternoon, destroyed while he stood watching, unable to do anything about it.

Let the prosperous cities of Israel remember, then, the lot of Sodom and the fate of Gomorrah (verse 11), overthrown in an hour and gone forever. Amos here may have an earthquake in mind (cf. 1:1).

In the ministry of Amos, then, the Lord mercifully offers Israel one last chance to repent (verse 12).

Friday, September 23

Amos 5: To the prophetic eye of Amos the downfall of Samaria is so imminent that he speaks of it as already accomplished (verses 1-2). The impending devastation will bring about a dramatic decline in population (verse 3).

The next several lines (verses 4-6) are arranged in a chiastic structure:

A–seek Me and live (verse 4)
B–not Bethel (verse 5)
C–not Gilgal
D–not Beersheba
C’–not Gilgal
B’–not Bethel
A’–seek Me and live (verse 6)

Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were all ancient cultic shrines founded by the Patriarchs (Genesis 21:33; 26:23; 28:10; 46:1-5), at which unfaithful Israel has been accustomed, says the prophet, to “seek” (darash) guidance for individual decisions (cf. Exodus 18:15). However, this seeking has not been a search for God Himself, who is found only through repentance and a “life” of communion with Him.

The poet Amos engages in paronomasia: “Gilgal shall go into exile”–Haggilgal goleh yigleh.

The “house of Joseph” (verses 6,15) is synonymous with the northern tribes, since the two largest of them, Ephraim and Manasseh, are descendents of Joseph (cf. 6:6).

An understanding of verses 10-17 should start with the awareness of the city gate (verses 10,12) as the normal place of adjudication and the administration of justice. Israel is here condemned for its perversion of justice by the oppression of the powerless. The poor and oppressed man knows better than to seek justice in such a court (verse 13).

The final part of this chapter (verses 18-27) is a second “woe” (hoy–verse 18). It contains the Bible’s first instance of the expression “the day of the Lord,” meaning the day of the Lord’s judgment. This is the significance of the expression in the rest of prophetic literature (Hosea, Isaiah, Zephaniah).

Like the other prophets of the eighth century, but most notably Isaiah, Amos condemns empty worship that has become a mere formality (verses 21-23), separated from the social demands of the moral life (verse 24).

Like Hosea (2:16) and Jeremiah (21:1-3), Amos looks back on the period of Israel’s wandering in the desert as the golden age of its worship (verse 25). This fact shows that Amos does not condemn ritual worship in itself, but only the moral perversion thereof.