November 3 – November 10, 2023

Friday, November 3

Colossians 2:10-23: The realm of angelic beings, “all principality and power,” is subject to Christ, who is the Head of the Church (verses 10,15).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing all these things, Christians must avoid any avenue leading them back to subjugation to angelic spirits that would again enslave them (verse 18). Such an avenue would be a return to the observance of the Mosaic rituals (verse 16) and dietary laws (verse 21).

In speaking of Christian liberation from the Mosaic Law, Paul seems especially to have in mind the rabbinical interpretation of that Law, which he calls “the commandments and doctrines of men” (verse 22). Here we observe a resemblance to the view of Jesus, who quoted Isaiah in condemnation of those who taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:23). The weakness of those observances was that they were of “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (verse 23).

Christians have been set free from the Mosaic regulations that served only as a “shadow of things to come” (verse 17). Indeed, those ordinances were but the early shadow cast ahead of time by “the body of Christ.”

This body of Christ is at once the flesh he assumed in the Incarnation and the visible, social, institutional body of the Church, of which Christ is the Head (verse 19). The “joints and ligaments” of this body are those myriad and structured ways through which the Church is joined together, one part to another. Paul knows nothing of an invisible, non-institutional church. He has in mind here the concrete, definable congregations to whom he ministers and for whom he writes these epistles. These congregations do not exist in social isolation; they are concretely united by certain “joints and ligaments,” of which the present epistle, carried by Tychicus and destined to be shared with other churches (cf. 4:16) is itself an example.

Saturday, November 4

2 Chronicles 12: Rehoboam’s reign knew its ups and downs, the downs decidedly dominant. Five years after the new king inherited the throne of David, Pharaoh Shishak, founder of Egypt’s twenty-second dynasty, invaded the Holy Land and took pretty much whatever attracted his eye: ” And it happened in the fifth year of King Rehoboam that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the Lord . . . So Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, and took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house; he took everything ” (verses 2,9).

Alone to do so, the Chronicler once again introduces the prophet Shemaiah (cf. 11:2-4) to point out to Rehoboam the deep theological reason for the catastrophe that befell the kingdom (verse 5). In this instance the prophetic message brought some measure of repentance among Jerusalem’s leadership, a repentance that caused the situation to become no worse (verses 6-8).

The Sacred Text goes on to remark about Shishak’s invasion, ” He also carried away the gold shields which Solomon had made. Then King Rehoboam made bronze shields in their place, and committed them to the hands of the captains of the guard” (verses 9-10). By setting bronze shields in the Temple to replace the golden shields of Solomon, Rehoboam enacted a truly wretched symbolism. Some of the ancients (Daniel, Hesiod, Ovid) spoke of an historical decline from a golden age to a silver age, and thence to a bronze age. No one disputes, of course, that Solomon’s was a golden age (9:13-17). However, the reign of Rehoboam, his heir, was not just a declension to silver, but all the way to bronze. The lunge, when it came, came at once, in a single generation.

We will find this pattern of sudden fall repeatedly throughout Chronicles, a Jehoshaphat followed by a Jehoram, a Hezekiah by a Manasseh, a Josiah by a villainous series of village idiots, all the way to Jerusalem’s downfall in 587.

As for Rehoboam, he remained, Josephus tells us, “a proud and foolish man” (Antiquities 8.10.4). He never recovered from the singular folly of his first political decision. After Shishak’s invasion, this thin, pathetic shadow of his father and grandfather reigned under a humiliating Egyptian suzerainty for a dozen more years. Like every fool, he had a heart problem. The final word about Rehoboam asserts, “he did evil, for he did not set his heart to seek the Lord” (verse 14).

Sunday, November 5

Luke 20.9-19: The parable of the vine-growers—listed prominently in Jesus’ teaching during the last week of his earthly life—provides a sharp, defining outline of how he came to understand, not only his ministry to his contemporaries, but also his larger significance in the history of Israel. It illustrates how Jesus thought about his mission and destiny. No other of his parables, I believe, contains such an obviously “autobiographical” perspective.

This parable of the vine-growers, in which the sending of God’s Son is presented as the defining moment of history, may be regarded as an extension of what Jesus said when he first preached on Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In the story of the vine-growers, we see the clearest evidence that Jesus addressed, in his own heart, the large dimensions of his destiny.

Colossians 3:18—4:1: The practical points of the Christian moral life, partly enumerated in 3:5-14, must now be applied to concrete situations, first within the home (3:18—4:1) and then outside (4:5).

The home is the first place to be transformed “in the Lord” (verse 18). Indeed, the “Lord” (Kyrios) is explicitly spoken of six times in this section on the Christian home (3:18,20,23, 24 twice; 4:1), indicating that the Lordship of Jesus is to dominate all of the relationships in the home. Surely, if Jesus is not the Lord of a believer’s home, it is not likely that He will be the Lord of any other part of his life.

In this respect, we may note that in this section on the Christian home, everything is regarded under the aspect of duty, not of rights. Rights have to do with the political order. The home, however, is the true pre-political institution.

The first relationship in the home is that between husband and wife. Paul views the wife’s self-subjugation to the husband as a matter of decency, order, and propriety—“as is fitting” (aneken—3:18). Her relationship to her husband, on the other hand, is to be rendered easy by the latter’s love and gentleness toward her (verse 19). The verb Paul uses for “love” in this instance is agapan, the highest and most spiritual kind of love (cf. Ephesians 6:21-33).

From the home all bitterness is to be excluded, and the husband/father is to provide the example in this (3:19,21).

In this section on the home, the relationship receiving the most attention is that between master and servant, a fact suggesting that among all domestic relationships, this may present the most problems (3:22—4:1). Indeed, within the home this is the only relationship that is not “natural,” not biological. It is purely economic and most related to the political order. To this extent, it is also somewhat artificial, unlike other domestic relationships, which are pre-political and rooted in nature itself. Paul’s own reflections here tend to mitigate the inequality inherent in this relationship (3:25; 4:1).

Monday, November 6

2 Chronicles 14: Abijah’s death (verse 1) after three years (13:2) was premature and unexplained, although one supposes that fourteen wives, twenty-two sons, and sixteen daughters (13:21) may have taken their toll.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 7

Luke 20.27-40: Luke 20:27-40: The group most threatened by Jesus’ assertion of authority in the Temple was that of the Sadducees, the priestly family, the sons of Zaddok. ??This group was also distinct in Judaism by reason of two doctrinal denials that characterized it: First, the denial of the resurrection, which was a standard doctrine of the Maccabees and the Pharisees. Second, the denial of canonical authority to any writings other than the Torah.

In defense of their position on the first point, the Sadducees present to Jesus a reductio ad absurdum, a hypothetical problem respecting the doctrine of the resurrection. They pose this hypothesis on the basis of the Torah, which prescribed that a widow, if she had borne no children to her husband, should be married to her brother-in-law, in order to give birth to children who would carry the name of the original husband. In principle this arrangement could be repeated if the brother-in-law should die before such children were born. Now, asks the interrogators, whose wife will the woman be when the dead of raised?

In support of the doctrine of the Resurrection, Jesus ironically adheres to the Sadducee’ limited canon by taking his argument from the Torah. If the
Sadducees can quote Moses, so can He!

Colossians 4.12-18: Greetings are also sent from Epaphras, himself an Asian (verse 12), to whose zeal for his countrymen Paul here bears witness (verse 13). One is disposed to think that it was Epaphras who brought to Paul’s attention the concerns that prompted the writing of this epistle.

Greetings are likewise sent from Luke (verse 14), who has been with Paul since the two joined company at Philippi for the final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6) He will be with Paul till the end (Acts 27:2; 2 Timothy 4:11), though Demas, also mentioned here (cf. Philemon 24), will not (2 Timothy 4:10).

It is worth remarking that this presence of Mark and Luke at Caesarea at the same time seems to be the only recorded instance of two Gospel writers being together in one place simultaneously. It is not difficult to imagine what they may have talked about!

The Archippus in verse 17 is known to us from Philemon 2. The cryptic message in this verse was doubtless clearer to the Colossians than it is to us.

The Colossians are to exchange epistles with the congregation at Laodicea, which is also receiving an epistle in this mailing (verse 16). This latter work is most likely to be identified with the epistle handed down to us as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians.

Wednesday, November 8

2 Chronicles 16: The latter part of Asa’s rule was not up to the mark set by his earlier days. He waxed lazy in his later years, and the present chapter describes his decline.

There is an historical problem with the present text. If we understand verse 1 strictly, the date appears to be 875. However, according to 1 Kings 16:6-8, Baasha had died ten years earlier! Some exegetes, in hopes of removing this problem, suggest that a copyist’s error has introduced a mistake into the Sacred Text. While this suggestion is possible, it is not the only solution to the problem. It may be that verse 1, in referring to the thirty-sixth year of Asa, is employing a shorthand formula to mean the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s kingdom, that is, the divided kingdom that followed the reign of Solomon. If this interpretation is correct, then the year of reference would be 986, which accords well with the sequence given in Kings. It also seems better to fit the Chronicler’s assertion that Asa’s early reign enjoyed ten years of peace (14:1).

In Asa’s response to Baasha’s invasion we discern already his decline. Instead of going to meet his opponent in battle, as he had earlier done in the case of Zerah, Asa decided to pay someone else to assume the task. He employed money to influence international politics (verses 2-5). Thereby conceding part of the Land of Promise to a foreign power, Asa paid the Syrians to invade the territory of Baasha. Over the next couple of centuries Asa’s successors on the throne would have to deal with Syrian interference in the politics of the Holy Land.

To reprimand this sin, the Lord sent to Asa the prophetic word of Hanani (verses 7-09), the father of yet another prophet named Jehu (1 Kings 16:17). This prophetic word, found only in the Chronicler, serves to advance the latter’s sense of history–namely, the conviction that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (verse 9).

Asa, in response, punishes the prophet, unlike his grandfather Rehoboam, who had humbled his mind before the prophetic word (12:6). Asa thus became the first king of Judah to raise his hand against the prophets.

In turn the Lord punished Asa three years later (verse 12). He lived five years more (verse 13). The great failure of Asa’s life, according to the Chronicler, came from following his disinclination to put his trust in God (verses 7,12).

Thursday, November 9

Psalms 27 (Greek & Latin 26): Although we have no reason to believe that it ever existed as such, it is not difficult to think of this psalm as two discrete psalms, so easily can each of the two parts stand on its own. In the first part God is spoken about (“The Lord is my illumination and my savior”); in the second He is spoken to (“Hear my voice, O Lord, when I call”). The first has to do with blessings already received, the second with blessings yet sought.

The voice in this psalm is the voice of the Church, who cries out with respect to Jesus Christ: “The Lord is my illumination and my savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the safeguard of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

(There is in the original Hebrew text a delicate pun involving ’ori [“my illumination”] and ’ira’ [“shall I fear”].)

“The Lord is my illumination,” we pray, using a word that has long borne special reference to our baptism in Christ (cf. Heb. 6:4; 10:32). This is the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). It is in this context of illumination that the Lord is also called “savior,” inasmuch as “there is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism” (1 Peter 3:21).

This assurance—“whom shall I fear? . . . of whom shall I be afraid?”—is that which asks: “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:31, 33, 35). Like Romans 8, our psalm then takes several verses to revel in the powerlessness of our spiritual enemies.

Psalm 15 had asked: “Lord, who will abide in Your tabernacle, or who shall rest on Your holy mountain?” and Psalm 24 had inquired: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?” It is the same here in Psalm 27: “A single thing have I sought of the Lord, and this will I pursue—that I may abide in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze upon the gladness of the Lord, and tarry in His holy temple.” In this verse our psalm touches on the deeper longing of all prayer, the desire to live in intimacy with God, to find joy in His worship, to abide in the consolation and light of His sanctuary: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles” (Matt. 17:4). These are metaphors for that intimate concord with God that is the quest of all our prayer.

We pray for this union with God, but we also actively follow after it, says our psalm. Closeness to the Lord is inseparable from the doing of His will, love itself involving chiefly a union of wills. Thus, union with God comes of both pure grace (“A single thing have I sought of the Lord”) and strenuous effort (“and this will I pursue”). Such things as fasting, self-denial, patience, kindness, obedience to the Lord’s commandments, and the disciplined exercise of the virtues are all components of this pursuit.

In this psalm the Lord’s sanctuary is chiefly pictured as a place of refuge: “For He screened me in His tabernacle in my day of adversities; in the hidden recess of His tent did He shelter me and lift me high upon a rock.”

Then, evidently in a sequence not decided by logic, we ask in the psalm’s second part those blessings that we celebrated in the first. We ask, that is, for the grace of illumination: “To You my heart has spoken; my face has sought You out. Your face, O Lord, will I seek. Turn not away Your face from me; be not averted in anger from Your servant.”

This is the final grace of prayer, of course, to gaze upon the face of God. On the mountain Moses asked to see the face of God (cf. Ex. 33:17–23), but it was more than a thousand years later when, on yet another mountain, his petition was finally granted (cf. Matt. 17:3). For our Lord Jesus Christ is the face of God, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). To seek the face of God, then, it is imperative to seek it where it is definitively and forever revealed.

To Him we pray, therefore, “Be my helper, and reject me not. Do not forsake me, O God my savior.” Once again, as at the psalm’s beginning, this same expression “my savior,” the knowledge of whom is everlasting life. For Him we wait in longing hope: “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

Friday, November 10

Luke 21.7-19: Luke’s version of this discourse especially stresses that Christians must not speculate about, nor anticipate, specific times and dates regarding the plans and purposes of God in the world. They must simply hold on until the times of the nations be fulfilled. If we compare this passage with the corresponding texts in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, we observe that Luke has removed any expressions that might be misinterpreted as referring to the end of the world. This latter subject he has already treated in 17:20-37.

The original remarks of the Apostles, which prompted this prophecy, were inspired by Herod’s fairly recent renovation of the Temple (cf. John 2:20). According to Flavius Josephus (Antiquities, 15.11.3), “the Temple was constructed of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height, and 12 in depth.” That is to say, the walls of this mountain of marble, towering 450 feet above the Kidron Valley, were 12 cubits, roughly 15 feet, thick! The various buildings of the Temple complex were colonnaded and elaborately adorned. Its surface area covered about one-sixth of the old city. The Roman historian Tacitus described it as “a temple of immense wealth.” (Histories 5.8). It was because of the Temple that Josephus remarked, “he that has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never in his life seen a desirable city. He who has not seen the Temple has never in his life seen a glorious edifice.”

Thus, the present text in Luke is concerned with the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in the summer of A.D. 70. ??Jesus’ predictions of the persecutions that Christians must endure are partly fulfilled in Luke’s stories of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles. He there describes their ill treatment in synagogues, their beatings before tribunals, their trials in the presence of governors and kings. For instance, the promise given here in verse 15 (“I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”) we see fulfilled in Acts 4:9-10:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead by him this man is standing before you well.

What will be required of Christians, in no matter what age they live, is patience (verse 19; cf. Romans 2:7; 8:25; 15:4-5).

2 Chronicles 18: The Chronicler has no direct interest in the history of the Northern Kingdom, and his sole interest in the present story has to do with the current holder of the Davidic throne, Jehoshaphat. This story serves the Chronicler’s purpose of introducing the latter’s dangerous coalition with the Northern Kingdom. If Asa’s great mistake was an unwise league with Syria, Jehoshaphat’s was an unwise alliance with Israel.

Because of this alliance, as we shall see during the ensuing chapters, the Davidic throne was nearly lost. The marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son to Ahab’s daughter would introduce into the Kingdom of Judah the full force of Phoenician idolatry and evil. Over the next several chapters the solemn prophetic promise made to David would be endangered as never before. During the next several generations there will be, at several given times, only a single direct male descendent of David on the face of the earth. Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, will kill all his brothers (21:4). Then, all but one of Jehoram’s own sons will be slain (21:17). When that remaining son (22:1) is killed, there is “no one to assume power over the kingdom” (22:9). Of Jehoram’s grandsons, all will be murdered except the infant Joash (22:1-12). All of this danger and evil will flow from Jehoshaphat’s alliance with the Northern Kingdom. Better warfare, thought the Chronicler, than this sort of peace!