January 5 – 12, 2024

Friday, January 5

We arrive at “the next day” in our progress through this new week of a new Creation.

At this point it may be useful to stop and reflect on the characters that the evangelist has introduced so far. We can divide these into New Testament and Old Testament characters.

The New Testament characters are, first, John the Baptist, then Andrew and Simon Peter. In this present reading he will introduce Philip and Nathanael.

The only Old Testament character introduced so far has been Moses. Moses will also appear in the present reading, but the character of Jacob will also be introduced.

We will say something about each of these.

It is reasonable to surmise that the mention of Peter and Andrew in this section indicates they were the ones who introduced Jesus to Philip. In the traditional lists of the Apostles, Philip is normally named right after Andrew (cf. Mark 3:18), and we shall find them together later on (12:22). Although Philip is named in each of the Synoptic Gospels, these really say nothing specific about him. Not so in the Fourth Gospel. He appears significantly in both the multiplication of the loaves and the Last Supper, each time talking with Jesus:

First, John 6: “Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.’” (In the very next verse Andrew is introduced.)

Next, John 14: “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, “Show us the Father”?’”

We learn something about Philip from both of these encounters. When Philip is introduced in the present chapter, he becomes a link joining together the apostolic band. Like Andrew, he has a Greek name, which may be the reason that the “Greeks” approach him in chapter 12. It was not uncommon for Galileans to have Greek names.

In identifying Bethsaida as “the city of Andrew and Peter,” John evidently indicates the place of their birth. The Synoptic Gospels clearly testify that the brothers now lived in Capernaum.

The Nathanael introduced here is clearly Bartholomew. The name Nathanael, after all, never appears in the Synoptic Gospels, and the name Bartholomew never appears in John. His full name was “Nathanael, son of Tholmai,” Indeed, in the Syriac text he is known as Bar Tholmai. He is normally named after Philip in the list of the Apostles (Mark 3:18).

Philip testifies to Nathanael that Jesus is the fulfillment of what was written in the Law and the Prophets (verse 45). This is the first time John explicitly speaks of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. This mention of Moses continues the attention given to him already in this chapter: “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Since we know that Nathanael came from Cana (21:2), and because the next story is placed at Cana (2:1), it is reasonable to suppose that this conversation took place in that town. We find Jesus at Cana in the very next scene.

One surmises that there must have been some local rivalry between Cana and Nazareth, which may account for Nathanael’s comment about Nazareth. It could be the case, however, that Nathanael was simply expressing what was obvious: Nazareth was an insignificant village, never mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed, there was no record of a prophet ever coming from Galilee (7:41,52).

When Nathanael approaches Jesus, the Lord says of him, “Behold, truly, an Israelite in whom is not deceit!” Jesus is implicitly contrasting this son of Israel with the original Israel—namely, Jacob, in whom there was considerable deceit. Indeed, deceit was one of Jacob’s most obvious traits, as both Isaac and Laban could testify.

Nathanael’s lack of deceit was manifest, in fact, in his frank remark about Nazareth!

The allusion to Jacob is continued in the Lord’s conversation with Nathanael: “you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is a reference, of course, to the story of Jacob at Bethel, where he saw the angels of God ascending and descending at that holy place. Jesus thus identifies Himself as the new Bethel, “the house of God.” This idea will appear in the next chapter, when the Lord identifies His own body as the new temple.

Jacob will appear again in the Lord’s discussion with the woman at the well in chapter 4.

Especially important to the story of Nathanael is the verb “to see.” Jesus “sees” Nathanael. Indeed, this is said twice: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him,” and “I saw you under the fig tree.” When this verb is ascribed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, it is always the beginning of a transformation. We will presently elaborate that theme.

Nathanael’s confession of faith forms a kind of climax to this chapter: Son of God, and King of Israel. Both of these titles will be taken up later. Thus:

“[Martha] said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world’” (11:27)

And, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” (12:13)

The first of these titles, in John’s eyes, look at Jesus from the perspective of eternity, the second from the perspective of history. Both considerations are essential to John’s Christology.

Saturday, January 6

Matthew 2.1-12: Among the notable features proper to the Gospel according to St. Matthew is the way it includes the verb “to adore” (proskyneo) in passages
where that verb does not appear in parallel accounts in the other Gospels. Thus, Matthew describes various people falling in adoration before Christ in scenes where they are not said to be doing so in the other Gospel versions of the same stories. These instances include the accounts of the cleansing of the leper (8:2), the petition of Jairus (9:18), the walking on the water (14:33), the prayer of the Canaanite woman (15:25), and the request of Zebedee’s wife for her two sons (20:20). A pronounced emphasis on Christ-ward adoration, then, is a distinguishing characteristic of Matthew’s narrative.

There is, furthermore, a special parallelism between the first and last instances of this verb in Matthew’s composition. These are the two scenes of the coming of the Magi, near the beginning of the Gospel, and the Great Commission to the Church at the very end. In the former of these, the verb proskyneo, “to adore,” is found three times (2:2, 8, 11), which is Matthew’s highest concentration of that word in a single scene.

A literal reading of the Great Commission passage makes it appear that the Eleven Apostles are actually bowed over in adoration before the risen Jesus at the very time when the Great Commission is given to them (28:9). Thus, not only does Matthew portray various individuals adoring the Lord, but his entire Gospel can be said to begin and to end with that picture in mind.

There is a further important parallelism between the Christmas story of the Magi and the account of the Great Commission; namely, the theme of the Church’s universal calling. Whereas Matthew ends his story with the Apostles’ being sent forth with the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (28:19), he begins his whole account with a kind of foreshadowing of that final mission by the arrival of the Magi, those wise searchers from the East who come to adore the newborn King of Israel. These two passages, then, thus embrace Matthew’s entire story of Jesus.

There is more suggested by the juxtaposition of these parallel texts,
however, for the very purpose of the Great Commission is to transform the whole of humanity as the rightful heirs of the Magi. Like the stars
themselves, the Apostles are sent forth to lead all nations into that path
first followed by the wise men from the East.

Sunday, January 7

Psalms 18 (Greek & Latin 17): Second Samuel 22 gives a nearly identical version of Psalm 18, similarly providing the historical context of David’s deliverance from the unjust persecution of Saul.

In the ancient and inherited liturgical customs of the Christian Church, this is a morning psalm, divided in the West between Fridays and Saturdays at prime (first hour), and prayed in the East at third hour (Tierce). It was about this time of day, from sunrise through early morning, that Jesus our Lord was brought to trial before Pontius Pilate (cf. Matt. 27:1), and many Christians have seen fit, over the centuries, to pray Psalm 18 in the context of that trial.

Indeed, certain lines of the psalm lend themselves readily to such a reading: “With praise will I call upon the Lord, and I shall be saved from my enemies. . . . From my powerful opponents will He deliver me, and from those who hate me, for they were stronger than I. They confronted me on the day of my calamity, but the Lord became my champion. . . . The Lord will reward me according to my righteousness; for the purity of my hands will He repay me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, nor have I strayed profanely from my God. For all His judgments are before me, nor have His decrees departed from me. In His presence will I be faultless, and I will preserve myself from rebellion. And the Lord will reward me according to my righteousness; for the purity of my hands will He repay me.”

Jesus was subjected to trial under the two greatest legal codes of that day, those of Israel and Rome, and in neither could His innocence find vindication. Within the finest forensic systems of humanity then devised, the most just man in history could obtain no justice. Psalm 17 fits congruously into that dramatic context.

In the final analysis, nonetheless, the real villains in this psalm, those opponents against whom the Lord Jesus directs His prayer, are not the Sanhedrin and Pilate. These are but the agents of a higher intrigue, as St. Peter will afterwards affirm: “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). No, the far deeper malice of the hour is that of the satanic spirits, the true enemies who conspired against the Holy and Righteous One.

Consequently, it is the fallen angels that we should see referenced in so many lines of this psalm, for against them our Lord waged a combat without quarter: “I will pursue My enemies and overtake them, nor will I turn back until they are perished. I will crush them, and they will not stand; they shall fall beneath My feet. . . . Like dust before the wind will I thrash them, and trample them down like mud in the streets.” This crushing of the Lord’s demonic foes is vividly described in the Bible’s final book: “And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:9, 10). Obviously, in the ongoing war of the spirit, neither this last book nor the Psalter was composed for noncombatants.

Many lines of Psalm 18, however, lay greater stress on the rich blessings of the Lord’s triumph over evil. For example, the calling of the Gentiles to salvation. Rejected by the Jews at His trial (cf. Matt. 27:25; John 19:15), Jesus speaks of the other nations: “You will set me at the head of the nations. An unknown people have served me. . . . For I will confess You among the nations, O Lord, and praise will I sing to Your name.” Later the Apostle Paul will quote this verse from our psalm by way of explaining his thesis that “the Gentiles [should] glorify God for His mercy” (Rom. 15:9).

The merciful calling of the Gentiles, in the wake of Israel’s defection, is, of course, a large theme in much of the New Testament. It is John’s Gospel, however, that most specifically joins this theme to the Lord’s rejection by Israel at the time of His sufferings and death. Note, for instance, that it is in the context of the appearance of the “Greeks” that Jesus gives the most explicit prophecy of His death: “‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. . . . And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:24–33).

Monday, January 8

Matthew 4.18-25: We may begin by reflecting on this story as a personal call, a paradigm of Christian conversion. It may be taken as an account representative of the calling of any Christian. James and John and Peter and Andrew can stand for any of us; their calling can be taken to represent our own.

In this respect, we should observe in Matthew’s story the primacy of grace. Peter and Andrew and James and John were not men searching for God; they were simply trying to make a living. They had not gone to a monastery for a retreat; they were very much in the world and the normal economic activities of the world.

This truth is rooted in the Incarnation itself. The Gospel does not say, “The Word was made flesh and became a hermit.” It says, rather, that he “dwelt among us.” He did not come to call the righteous but sinners; he placed himself in the midst of sinners.

It is very much to the point that Jesus met these men—he summoned these men—in a non-religious context. And this non-religious context is the setting of his teaching.

Thus, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” the proper context of that poverty of spirit is life in the world. When he declares, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” the declaration does not refer to spiritual peace found in seclusion; it means, rather, real peace in the real world. When he proclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus has in mind purity of heart within the framework of a world in which purity of heart is a very difficult task.

And the same is true of every aspect of Jesus’ call. When he declares blessed those who mourn, it is real mourning he has in mind. When he speaks of hungering after righteousness, he means righteousness in the economic context in which he calls these four laboring men. When he speaks of the merciful, he refers to the exercise of mercy in this world that stands in need of infinite mercy.

In short, Jesus did not call these particular men to leave the world, but to live lives of mercy, righteousness, patience, peace-making, and purity of heart within the ongoing context of their real lives. “Come, follow me,” he says, as he walks on in this world. It is within the confines and conditions of space and time—geography and history—that Salvation is achieved.

This is the reason Jesus calls these men in their very workplace. It is the workplace that must be saved; it is the workplace that must be sanctified. The Christian calling is not a thing separable from labor, and economics, and the common pursuits of ordinary people. The truth of the Gospel is not a thing alien to the truth of the world.

Tuesday, January 9

Hebrews 3.1-11: Having contrasted Jesus to the prophets (1:1-2) and to the angels (1:5-14), the Epistle to the Hebrews proceeds to contrast Him to Moses. In all cases, God’s Son and Heir is contrasted with His mere servants. In the cases of the angels and Moses, the words used for “servant” have a religious meaning.

First, with respect to the angels the descriptive word is leitourgos (1:7), translated in the KJV as “minister.” In describing the angels further, the author resorts to an equivalent expression, leitourgika pnevmata, translated in the KJV as “ministering spirits.”

Second, with respect to Moses, the descriptive word is therapon (verse 5). Since this word is normally translated into English as simply “servant,” the reader may not suspect the religious meaning it sometimes has. The noun therapon often refers to someone who serves in a temple. This is how we should understand Moses as God’s “servant.”

The underlying Hebrew noun is ‘eved, a word used for Moses many times (Exodus 14:31; Numbers 12:7-8); Deuteronomy 34:5 (cf. 33:1), Psalm 105 [104]:26).

In the LXX of Exodus 14:31 and Numbers 12:7-8, this ‘eved is translated as therapon. This preference of the translators probably reflects the importance of Moses in the institution of Israel’s priesthood and ritual worship.

This became a designation for Moses, as we see twice in the Wisdom of Solomon (10:16; 18:21).

Now it is passing curious that in early Christian literature, the word therapon is used only for Moses. It became virtually a technical designation for Moses. Our earliest example is the present text in Hebrews, where the “house” (oichos), over which Moses is the minister, is the Church.

Moses remains a permanent minister in God’s house. This is an important assertion of the role of Moses in the Church. He is the therapon, the servant of the temple, and from the beginning this is how Moses was regarded by Christians.

Near the end of the first century, Clement of Rome wrote to the rebellious congregation at Corinth: “Envy brought down Dathan and Abiram alive to Hades, through the sedition which they excited against God’s servant Moses [pros ton theraponta tou Theou Mousen] (4.12).

Perhaps quoting our text here in Hebrews (and/or Numbers 12:7-8, Clement later speaks of “the blessed Moses, “a faithful servant in all his house”—ho makarios pistos therapon en holo to oiko Mouses (43.1). Clement uses this noun three other times to refer to Moses (51.3,5; 53.5). It refers to Moses also in Pseudo-Barnabas 14.4. Thus, we find the word used seven times in Christian literature prior to about A.D. 110, and each time it refers to Moses.

Even as the author of Hebrews contrasts Jesus and Moses, he is careful not to permit this contrast to reflect badly on Moses. He is called a “faithful minister” (pistos therapon). This expression, used also by Clement, comes directly from the LXX of Numbers 12:7.

This twofold concern of the author of Hebrews—to show proper respect for the angels and Moses even when arguing for the preeminence of Jesus—is consistent with his attitude toward the Old Testament generally. He never permits the superiority of the New Covenant become an occasion to denigrate the Old.

Moses is arguably the most prominent Old Testament figure to appear in the Epistle to the Hebrews. He will return to this work several more times (7:14; 8:5; 9:19; 10:28; 11:23-27; 12:21).

Wednesday, January 10

Matthew 8.1-13: Today’s story from the Gospel of Matthew is unique in Holy Scripture, and the uniqueness consists in this. The account of the devout Centurion is the only story in the Bible that appears in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. Obviously it is Matthew’s version that we consider today.

The Centurion serves as a model for how Christ our Lord is to be approached. The Centurion is a man of order. He understands the proper structure of society and knows his place within it. Thus, he tells our Lord, “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This is the first thing to observe about our Centurion—he knows himself subject to authority. He entertains no rebellious notions about social equality. He does not chafe under discipline. He does not complain about his duties in obedience. He is a man that respects proper structure in society, and he depends on that structure in order to regulate his own life.

This is an essential requirement of anyone who wants to come to Christ. Indeed, this is why Christ founded a Church and remains the Head of the Church. Let us be fully convinced of this: No one goes to God as an individual. We come to God by joining the society that our Lord Himself established, the Church, with whom He identifies Himself.

ndeed, this was the very first lesson that St. Paul was taught at the time of His conversion. The voice from heaven said to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Notice the Me. Our Lord did not ask him, “Why do you persecute Christians?” but “why do you persecute Me?” Do you see how completely our Lord identifies Himself with the society that He founded?

Then, when our Lord had gotten Saul’s attention on the road to Damascus, Saul asked Him, “Lord, what must I do?” And what was the Lord’s reply? “Go into the city, and it will be told you what to do.” Paul learned this lesson from the earliest moments of his conversion. He must enter into Damascus and put himself under the discipline of the Church. That is to say, if a man wants to come to God, he must be subject to authority.

This is extremely important, because it has to do with our nature as human beings. The modern world tells us that each of us in an autonomous being, but this is a lie, a most serious deception. Human beings were not created to be autonomous (“one’s own law”). Human beings were created to become social, because “it is not good for man to be alone.” The first condition for coming to God, then, is to be subject to authority.

Second, this centurion is a man of devout humility. This trait is manifest when He says to our Lord, ““Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” Devout humility is not the fruit of an inferiority complex, and it is compatible with a great deal of excellence and personal achievement. Devout humility is, rather, a humility born out of a sense of standing in the presence of God. It consists in the constant remembrance of living in the presence of God.

Indeed, the only proper theological basis for humility is devotion to God. A humble man is someone humble before God. Indeed, it is his relation to God that renders him humble.

Devout humility, however, is more than an attitude. It is expressed in signs of humility. For example, devout humility is the reason that Holy Scripture prescribes that men should pray with head uncovered, and women with head covered, for example. In both cases Christian men and women manifest that they are subject to authority. Devout humility, you see, is not just an internal sentiment. It is parsed in the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we carry ourselves, and the way we treat one another.

This is the humility we see in devout kings and prophets of the Bible. This is the devout humility of Abraham. This is the humility of Moses, described in Holy Scripture as the humblest of all men. This is the humility of Hezekiah and Josiah. This is the devout humility of John the Baptist, who said of Christ, “he must increase, I must decrease.” Such in the devout humility in today’s centurion.

Third, this centurion comes to God through the prayer of faith. He comes, not to seek anything for himself, but to intercede on behalf of a servant who is dear to him. He prays in trust. This too is required for someone who would come to God. “Speak only a word,” he says, “and my servant will be healed.”

That is to say, this centurion does not simply trust God in general. He trusts the word of Christ, and this is why our Lord accords him the uncommon praise we find in the Gospel story: ““Amen, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

This is a man without pretense. He has nothing to prove. The simplicity of his faith and the directness of his prayer are of a piece with his devout humility and his sense of being under authority.

The truly fortunate man in this story is the sick servant, who attends to such a master, and who is loved by such a master, and is prayed for by such a master.

The prayer of faith, after all, is not something separable from the other matters we have considered, devout humility and being under authority. None of these things will really be possible without the others.

What should be, then, the hope that we take from this story? Surely it is the hope of being included in that multitude of which Jesus our Lord says, “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”

This centurion was no Jew. He was a servant of the Roman Empire, the commander of a hundred men. Yet Christ our Lord admits him to the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our forefathers in the prayer of faith and devout humility. May the Lord in His mercy enable us too so to sit in the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, January 11

Matthew 8.14-17: The mention of the “evening” in this text is significant, because the day in question was a Sabbath. Only in the evening, when the Sabbath was past, could the people carry their sick to Jesus to be healed.

What does distinguish Matthew’s account here is his addition of a quotation from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, which the entire Christian Tradition reads as a prophecy of the Passion of Christ. This addition is sudden and unexpected. In fact, this quotation from Isaiah is the earliest explicit reference to the Lord’s Passion in Matthew’s gospel.

It seems obvious that Matthew inserts this mention of the Passion in order to prepare for Jesus’ summons to discipleship in the verses that follow:

Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8.18-22).

Thus, as Matthew has arranged his sequence, the summons to the difficulties of discipleship are immediately preceded by the first mention of the Lord’s coming Passion. It is a simple way of saying that the cost of discipleship always involves the Cross.

It remains curious, nonetheless, that Matthew should introduce the image of the Lord’s Passion in connection with His healing of the sick and the cleansing of the demon-possessed. As Matthew cites the verse from Isaiah, it reads,

He assumed our weaknesses
And carried our illnesses

In the Isaian texts known to us, this is not what we read. In the LXX, for instance, the passage reads,

He bears our sins
And suffers for us (Isaiah 53.4).

The extant Hebrew text reads

Truly our pains He bore
And our sorrows—He carried them

Thus, within the Bible itself we have three different readings for this verse.

The whole context—the most quoted of the Suffering Servants songs—is understood to refer to the Lord’s Passion. So what prompts Matthew to quote this text—even changing the wording of it—in reference to our Lord’s healing of the sick and the purging of the demon-possessed.

This, I think: Matthew perceives no division or separation in the ministry of Christ our Lord. He saves and heals, whether in the sickroom or on the Cross. He carries our pains, but He also carries them away. He removes sickness, because He takes away sins.

Jesus is more than a thaumaturge. The power that flows from His person is not free. It is bought and paid for. Jesus does not merely remove our affliction; He assumes it. He takes it upon Himself.

In what the gospels record of His earthly ministry we find Him applying to the flesh and minds of His compatriots the power of the Cross. He was already acting as the Savior of the world, when He touched the hand of Peter’s kinswoman. When He raised the daughter of Jairus, He did so by the might of His own Resurrection.

When Jesus heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, and cleanses from infection the leper’s flesh, these wonders serve as prophecies of the complete healing and the final glory of the resurrected body.

The work of Christ is of whole cloth, and it is all Salvation. “Jesus saves” and “Jesus heals” are the same thing.

Friday, January 12

Hebrews 4.11-16: The author speaks of God’s word as living and efficacious, sharper than a sword. It penetrates and divides man’s inner being, judging the reflections and thoughts of his mind.

There is no stronger affirmation of the truth that God lays bare our being by the light of His word searching our souls. When the Bible is read, whether proclaimed loudly in the worship of the Church or pondered quietly in the intimacy of our homes, God speaks. His prophetic word of judgment sears into our being laying bare the secrets of our consciences. It is a “word of judgment”—logos kritikos (verse 12). It does not lie there inert on the page open before our eyes. We search the Scriptures so that the Scriptures may search us, cutting into our being to expose what we are within. This is what makes the Bible different from all other books. Only here does God speak prophetically, in the sense of placing our whole being radically under judgment.

Thus, we do not call the Bible into question. The Bible calls us into question. We imagine that we are alive, and the Bible is inert. On the contrary, the Bible is more alive than we are. It is vibrant and efficacious, because it is the word of God. We open its pages in order to share its life. We do not, then, truly open the Bible unless we open our hearts and invite God’s word to penetrate our minds. We come to the Bible, seeking its judgment, because only in being judged by God’s all holy word may we share in the redeeming life that is offered there.

The chief point our author wants to make here, with respect to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, is His compassion for sinners. He is compassionate, says Hebrews, because He suffered temptation. This theme was already introduced in Hebrews, at the end of that section dealing with the Incarnation: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (2:17-18).

This author insists that this is kind of priest we need: He must feel the same weakness the rest of us feel: “For we do not have a High Priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but was, like ourselves, tempted in everything.”

Psalms 30 (Greek & Latin 29): This psalm bears a curious title that tells us something interesting of this psalm’s use in ancient Judaism: “A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the House of David.”

First, it is ascribed to King David, nor is it difficult to think of him praying this psalm of thanksgiving for the Lord’s deliverance. After all, David came to the throne of Israel after years of oppression and exile under Saul, and these are the sentiments we would expect on his being delivered from those hard times.

Second, however, besides its individual and personal use in the case of David, this psalm was later sung as part of a communal, liturgical festival celebrated every year—the Dedication (Hanukkah) of the temple. This was a winter feast (cf. John 10:22) dating from 165 B.C., and Jews around the world continue to celebrate it even today, long after their temple has disappeared from history.

This twofold historical use of our psalm already suggests more than one layer of meaning. First, there is the remembrance of David’s years of oppression and exile, followed by a final deliverance: “I will extol you, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me.”

But the second half of the title, which tells us of its use at the feast of Hanukkah, indicates its communal use. David’s personal sentiments of gratitude and praise to the redeeming God became incorporated into Israel’s restoration to her temple after years of oppression and strife. This history is narrated in chapters 1—4 of 1 Maccabees. When Antiochus Epiphanes IV came to the throne of Syria in September of 175 B.C., it was the beginning of very hard times for the Chosen People. Their oppression by this ruthless overlord included even the desecration of the temple. At the end of this decade of terror (175–165), when Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the temple at Jerusalem, Israel felt it could now, with unburdened heart, make its own the ancient sentiments of David: “I will extol you, O Lord, for You have lifted me up, and have not let my foes rejoice over me.”