September 22 – September 29, 2023

Friday, September 22

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.

b>Saturday, September 23

Luke 9.51-56: Jesus’ rejection by the Samaritans becomes the context in which the two “sons of thunder” seek fire from heaven to destroy those who refuse the message of the Gospel. This story, proper to Luke, is set immediately after the report of John (the younger of those sons) rebuking those who cast out demons in Jesus’ name (verse 49).

Luke introduces this story (proper to him) with the dramatic assertion that Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem”; this is immediately repeated as “his face was toward the journey to Jerusalem.” This double assertion declares a structural theme; everything in this gospel points to the salvific climax in Jerusalem; Luke’s account ends in the Holy City (24.53 — contrast this with the endings of Matthew and John).

Amos 6: This short chapter is the prophet’s third “woe,” which foretells destruction and exile for the socially irresponsible, pleasure loving, and self-satisfied rulers of both Israel and Judah (verse 1). If they doubt Amos this point, let them consider the plight of other unjust nations (verse 2).

There is a chronological problem here, inasmuch as all three of these cities were destroyed after the lifetime of Amos (Calneh in 738, Hamath in 720, and Gath in 711), though he speaks of their destruction as something that his listeners can go and inspect for themselves. Since this latter consideration seems to exclude the possibility that Amos is simply speaking of a future event in the past tense (which, as we have seen, he sometimes does), it is likely the case that a later editor of this book may have adjusted verse 2.

The northern tribes—that is, Joseph—yet enjoy their luxurious living (verses 4-6), but not for long (verses 7-8). The prophet’s reference to a feast conducted during “the affliction of Joseph” puts the attentive reader in mind of Genesis 37:23-25—“So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal.”

The people’s exile will be preceded by siege and famine (verses 9-11).

By his rhetorical questions (verse 12) Amos appeals to the people’s sense of what is normal, conceivable, and possible. Horses and oxen need soil, not rock, on which to walk and work. Israel is showing less sense of reason than these dumb beasts.

Sunday, September 24

Galatians 2.11-21: In the NT most statements about redemption tend to lay emphasis on the universality of what God has done in Jesus; the terms tend to be plural and collective: “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16. Similarly Paul wrote that God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). Paul also so wrote, “There is one God, and there is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).

More rarely does the NT speak of Jesus’ love for each person. For example, the parable of the Good Shepherd tells how He goes out in search of the one lost sheep. In the Gospel of John, the Good Shepherd says that He calls each of His sheep by name. When the Gospel of John speaks of the Holy Eucharist, the emphasis once again is on the singular: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides and I in him.” This same accent is found in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens, I will come unto him and eat with him.”

Such expressions of personal intimacy with the Lord are not as common in St. Paul, but today’s text from Galatians is an exception: “The life I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” This text is evidence that Paul, like John, knew the love of Christ to be directed as him personally.

Amos 7: Each of the next three chapters contains at least one “vision,” in which Amos perceives various dimensions of his own vocation and the divine judgment to which the Lord has summoned him to bear witness.

The first of these is a vision of locusts, one of man most threatening natural enemies (verses 1-3). In response to the intercessions of the prophet, this plague is canceled.

The second vision is the brush fire, another formidable enemy of man (verses 4-6). Once again the people are spared by God’s mercy at the intercession of Amos.

The third vision is the plumb line (verses 7-9), an instrument designed to determine “uprightness.” This tool is a metaphor for the standard of righteousness that will guide the divine judgment. Whereas the locusts and the brush fire were images of irrational destruction, the plumb line is the symbol of objective, detached assessment. Amos here does not pray. Plumb lines, like all instruments of measure, enjoy a dispassion and objectivity that are without remorse or personal feelings.

It appears that Amos has been sharing these visions with the folks gathered at the shrine Bethel, because now the apostate priest at that shrine complains to King Jeroboam II (786-746) about the prophet’s activities and his message (verses 10-11). This priest also reprimands Amos, telling him to head back south where he came from (verse 12-13). Amos suffers the usual accusation leveled by insecure governments—conspiracy.

By way of response the prophet tells of the rural circumstances and agricultural conditions of his calling (verses 14-15), adding a few choice words about what the accusing priest might expect in the near future (verses 16-17).

Monday, September 25

Amos 8.1-14: The prophet’s fourth vision is the basket of summer fruit (verses 1-3). The message associated with this vision, although perfectly clear to the first hearers of Amos, is a bit difficult to grasp without recourse to the original Hebrew. The summer fruit (qayis) suggests “ripeness” (haqes), the sense being “the end is nigh.” This is a reference to the imminence of “the day of the Lord.”

Greed and a worldly spirit have been the dominating sins of the people who suffer the accusations of Amos. They have kept all the proper religious and liturgical rules. They would not think of violating the prescribed days of rest, such as the weekly Sabbath and the monthly New Moon (Numbers 28:11-15; Colossians 2:16), but what good has come of it? It has simply provided them with more leisure to plot new ways of acquiring unjust gain! Their perfectly observed religious practices have had no beneficial influence on the quality of their hearts, which are still consumed with greed and the relentless acquisition of wealth at the expense of the needy and the weak (verses 4-6).

Amos describes the punishment destined for these offenders (verses 7-10). In this description Amos reminds his listeners of the awful darkness they had all beheld during the total eclipse of the sun over the Holy Land on June 15, 763 B.C.

1 Chronicles 1: The lists here in Chapter One, then, serving the theological interests of the Chronicler, were not intended to be complete. For example, Cain and all his descendants are omitted. The Chronicler refuses to admit the existence of Cain’s posterity for the same reason that he will later ignore the schismatic kings of the North—namely, why should he recall what the Lord Himself has chosen to forget? Hence, the Chronicler writes here only of those ancients who were important to the ancestry and family history of the Chosen People.

Respecting the list itself we observe that of the three sons of Noah, there are fourteen names associated with Japheth (verses 5-7), thirty with Ham (verses 8-16), and twenty-six with Shem (verses 17-24). Thus, the list consists of seventy peoples or nations. The Bible is fond of selections of seventy (Numbers 11:16; Luke 10:1), which is the sum reached by the multiplication of the digital ten by the perfect number, seven (which is “perfect,” because it comes from the union of the divine three with the human four [man himself having four sides and thus dividing the world into four directions]).

Tuesday, September 26

Amos 9.1-7: The prophet’s final vision is the altar at which the Lord stands to commence the day of judgment (verses 1-6). This is apparently the altar in the shrine at Bethel. The burden of this message is that no one will escape the judgment of God, for the whole universe belongs to Him, and no one can hide from His presence.

1 Chronicles 2: Now we begin the genealogies of the “Israelites.” Indeed, we here observe, for the first time, that Chronicles habitually refers to Jacob by the name “Israel,” the name he received after his famous wrestling match at Peniel (verse 1). Whereas the name Jacob denotes that very interesting historical character to whom so many interesting things happened, the name Israel denotes more especially the patriarch of the twelve tribes, the man who gave his name to the twelve tribes.

In the genealogies of Chronicles, beginning with this chapter, we also observe that far greater prominence and elaboration are accorded the tribes of Judah and Levi, the kingly and priestly households. Taking Chronicles as a whole, Judah will get 102 verses and Levi 81 verses, whereas all the other tribes together will receive only 126 verses. For the Chronicler, writing long after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., only Judah and Levi were of immediate moment, and he was very eager to demonstrate the support of the priestly tribe for the covenanted royal house of David. Hence, this dominance of Levi and Judah in his genealogies.

This chapter also provides the Bible’s only list of the Jerahmeelites (verses 25-41), David’s “country cousins” mentioned in 1 Samuel (27:10; 30:29). As usual, the Chronicler is interested in this family solely because of its relationship to David.

This pronounced accent on the genealogy of Judah will be of even more importance to the Christian, of course, because this is the genealogy of the Incarnation itself: “For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah” (Hebrews 7:14).

Within the genealogy of Judah, special prominence is given to the ancestors of David’s father, Jesse (verses 10-12), for obvious reasons, and then to his descendents (verses 13-15). Here we learn that Jesse had seven sons, which is a problem if we recall that 1 Samuel (16:6-11) mentions eight sons of Jesse. Perhaps the rabbis were correct in their speculation that one of the eight sons, having died childless, is intentionally left out of this genealogy.

Because of Caleb’s prominence within the territory of Judah, a great deal of this chapter concerns his family (verses 18-24,42-50). There is, however, another reason given for this attention given to Caleb. It provides some background for the character of Bezaleel, who will be introduced in 2 Chronicles 1:5. This Bezaleel was of interest to the Chronicler, because he was the craftsman credited with the proper embellishment of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:35-38). In this genealogy of Caleb, then, we see another sign of the Chronicler’s concern for all things associated with worship.

Since the word kenite means “smith,” we have in verses 50-55 the world’s first genealogy of . . . , well, “The Smith Family.”

Wednesday, September 26

Amos 9.8-15: These closing verses introduce a reassessment of the very notion of Israel as God’s “chosen” people. Chosen for what? For privilege? Hardly. For responsibility, rather, at which the people have abjectly failed. It has become obvious to Amos that if God chose Israel, it was for reasons larger than Israel, which has so thoroughly repudiated the implications of His choice. The history of all nations, in fact, is under His sway, and the history of Israel fits into the larger designs of His heart.

For that reason the destruction of Samaria is not the end of God’s interest in the world. Judah yet remains (verse 8), and God has other purposes in mind in the sometimes violent sifting process of history (verse 9).

The Northern Kingdom was never party to an independent covenant. The house of David was, however, and the Lord will honor that covenant (verse 11). Christian readers correctly see in this proclamation the promise of the Messiah, in whom will converge all the developments of history.

Thus, the nations condemned in the opening two chapters of this book are blessed on its final page.

1 Chronicles 3: We now begin the royal line of David, which this chapter extends to at least the beginning of the fourth century before Christ. This latter fact does not necessarily prove anything about the date of the composition of Chronicles, because it is very conceivable that a later editor or copyist of Chronicles may have extended this list of the Davidic descendants. In this respect one does well to bear in mind that Chronicles was “canonized” into the Old Testament rather late in Jewish history, so that no earlier editor or copyist would have scrupled to augment the text. In fact, the ancient Greek translation (Septuagint) of this chapter extends the list all the way to about 250, exactly the period in which the Septuagint translation was being made.

The Sacred Text names the mothers of the six sons that David fathered in Hebron, before the removal of his capital to Jerusalem in 993 (verses 1-4). This detail is curious, because Chronicles otherwise omits the fact that David’s reign was not recognized by the northern tribes for the first seven years (cf. 2 Samuel 5:5). This omission, in turn, is consistent with the Chronicler’s general disregard for the politics of the northern tribes.

Did the birth of these first six sons at Hebron diminish their claims to succeed David on the throne? Perhaps, but we must bear in mind that the rules for royal succession in Israel—kingship being a completely new thing for the nation—were not yet established, so there is no reason to suppose that the royal succession was expected to follow the principle of primogeniture.

Thursday, September 28

Luke 10.38-42: The moral message of this story is based on a contrast between “many things” and “the one necessary thing.” Martha is busy and concerned. What she is doing are worthy and important things. Indeed, Martha adds to her concerns by assuming responsibility for what her sister is not doing.

What Martha is doing, however, is not permanent. In due course, the “many things” will be taken away. Indeed, heaven and earth will pass away. This is guaranteed.

What Mary is doing, however, will not be taken away. Whence is this permanence of Mary’s occupation? It is the Word of God. Mary sits at the feet of the Lord and attends to His word. This is the permanence of what Mary does. Even though heaven and earth will pass away, the words of Christ will in no way pass away. An intense negative in Greek: ou me.

Sustained attention to the words of Christ takes hold of the “one and necessary thing” to which we have access. The word of Christ is not separable from His person. Mary is described as sitting at His feet and listening to that word. His word is permanent, because Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

To those who are busy and concerned about many things, this activity may appear to manifest indolence, particularly because of the posture of sitting.

But this posture is the one most conducive to hearing. It is also the posture in which the listener is least able to resist the power of the word.

1 Chronicles 4: The genealogies in Chronicles are vastly more detailed for the tribes of Judah and Levi than for any of the others. The present chapter (verses 1-23) on the tribe of Judah illustrates the point.

To grasp the historical reason for this emphasis, it is sufficient to reflect that the southern kingdom, the realm of Judah, had an unbroken succession of a single dynasty (the six years of Athaliah’s usurpation being only a blip on the screen) from about 1000 to 587 before Christ. During more than four centuries, beginning in 993, it had its capital in a single city, Jerusalem. This stability and continuity of Judah contributed in no small measure to the better preservation of its historical memory through archived records.

In these respects Judah is to be contrasted with the Northern Kingdom, Israel, which was governed by a series of dynasties, some of them very short, over a period of only two centuries (922-722). Its capital, moreover, did not remain in a single place during that time. Israel’s instability and impermanence are reflected in the relative paucity of its preserved records. Sometimes, indeed, even the identity of individual Israelite kings was lost from the stories about their reigns.

Friday, September 29

1 Chronicles 5: This chapter begins with a brief explanation why Reuben, though Israel’s eldest son, did not inherit nor transmit the right of primogeniture. (In fact, however, throughout the Bible God’s favorable choice most often seems to fall elsewhere than on the eldest son.) The reasons given here reflect the narratives in Genesis (35:22; 49:4).

Even while admitting the transferal of Israel’s birthright to Joseph, the Chronicler feels compelled to mention that Judah was the strong tribe that produced the leader (nagid) of God’s People (verse 2; 2 Samuel 7:8).

Dealing with Reuben’s settlements east of the Jordan and Dead Sea (verse 8) apparently prompts the author’s mind to remain in that general location and discuss the tribe of Gad (verses 11-17) and the half-tribe of Manasseh (verses 23-24) that settled in Gilead and Bashan. This sequence interrupts the author’s pattern of adhering to lists of the sons as they appear in Genesis 46:16 or Numbers 26:15-18.

The mention of Sharon in verse 16 is most mysterious, because the Plain of Sharon in nowhere near that area.

In verse 17 the author traces his source material to a census made in the mid-eighth century.

This chapter has two notices of wars against the Hagrites, Arabians living east of the Jordan, one in the late eleventh century (verse 10) and one at an apparently later period (verses 19-20). The Hagrites, twice defeated, were hardly destroyed. We find them later in the Greek writers Strabo and Ptolemy and the Latin author Pliny.

Some elements in this account suggest a source as early as the ninth century. For example we know that the towns of Aroer, Baalmeon, and Nebo (verse 8) fell under Moabite control during that century.

The chapter’s closing verses (25-26) indicate the irony that these eastern tribes, victorious in war by God’s favor, nonetheless succumbed to the religion of those whom they defeated. This explains their massive deportation by Tiglath-Pileser in 734. (The material here is drawn from 2 Kings 15:19,29; 17:6; 18:11.) Thus, an Assyrian emperor is portrayed as an instrument in the hand of the supreme Lord of History.