June 14 – June 21, 2024

Friday, June 14

Mark 3.1-6: As the topic of sin unites the first and second of these conflict stories, and the image of eating joins the second, third, and fourth, so the theme of the Sabbath ties together the fourth and the fifth.

Among them all, this final incident must have been the most exasperating to Jesus’ enemies. Now that He already declared Himself “Lord of the Sabbath,” they are watching Him closely as He enters the synagogue. In the earlier narrative of Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath, there had been a very dramatic expulsion of demonic forces from a possessed man (1:23-26). On that occasion, however, no one had thought to raise an objection to any alleged violation of the Sabbath. Perhaps everyone had simply been too astounded even to consider the question.

All is different now. Jesus has already asserted His supreme authority, not only in regard to the Jewish calendar (fast days and the Sabbath), but even sin itself. In this fifth story there is no pronounced interest in the Sabbath-question as such (unlike 2:27). Everything has to do, rather, with Jesus’ authority. His enemies have come to accuse Him (katagorein in 3:2; cf. also 15:3-4).

But in the end it is Jesus who does the accusing, and with manifest anger. He heals the man with the withered hand, but without any outward word or gesture. That is to say, He cannot be accused of violating the Sabbath! The crippled man simply extends his hand and is instantly healed. Although Jesus gives them no evidence by which they can accuse Him, the critics are not deterred. They promptly conspire with the Herodians (their natural opponents) to “destroy” Jesus (apoluein in verse 6; cf. also 11:18).

Leviticus 27: This appendix to the Code of Holiness treats of substitutions and redemptions for offerings vowed to the Lord. Such offerings might include a person’s labor for the service of the sanctuary, to be redeemed for a price commensurate with the age and condition of the person (verses 1-8).

Such offerings also included animals, certainly, greater value attaching to those animals appropriate for sacrifice (verses 9-13). Indeed, these latter could not be redeemed at all.

Property of all kinds could be vowed, particularly real estate. As in the case of an unclean animal, such property could be redeemed at the increase of a double tithe (one-fifth) of its value (verses 14-16,19). Since such an offering of property involved an alienation of it, the actual worth of the offering was affected by the date of the next jubilee year (verses 17,18,21,23,24).

Firstborn animals, belonging to the Lord as a matter of course, could not be redeemed if they were animals fit for sacrifice. In the case of other animals, redemption was based on the same double-tithe we saw in the case of property (verse 27).

Finally, all goods were to be tithed for the sake of the worship, the support of its ministers (verses 31-33; Numbers 18:21,24), and the care of the poor (Deuteronomy 26:12).

Saturday, June 15

Mark 3.13-19: From this large multitude, Jesus now chooses twelve for a particular twofold purpose.

First, they are to be with him in a more exclusive sense. These men are obliged to give up whatever else they are doing; they are to undertake a greater concentration on the things that Jesus is about. These are the men we will find later at the Last Supper; only they receive the Great Commission.

Second, Jesus calls them that he might send them out to preach. All Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel, but these men are “delagates with portfolio.” To these men, the Lord gives “authority.”

The authority given these men extends to the driving out of demons. This is what they do by the proclamation of the Gospel.

Since this is a select group with particular authority, Mark goes to the trouble of naming them. These are the men who will be sent out to preach in chapter six.

The selection of these Twelve may profitably be compared to stories in Exodus 24 and Numbers 1. Some particulars are rather striking.

First, Mark is careful to note that these twelve men are chosen “on a mountain.” Why a mountain? We recall that the original Israelite “elders” are called to be with Moses on Mount Sinai.

Second, the first apostle named by Mark (as in all such lists) is Peter, whose name means “rock.” This idea appears in the names of two of the men listed in Numbers 1: Eliesur (“God is my rock”) and Surisadai (“my rock is the Almighty”).

Third, like James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, two of Moses companions are also blood brothers.

Finally, we should also note that this list of the Twelve ends on the theme of the Lord’s Passion: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.” It is from within this select group that the drama of the Cross unfolds.

Monday, June 17

1 Samuel 3: Samuel’s lifetime–mostly the second half of the eleventh century before Christ–was an age of transitions, in two of which Samuel himself was directly involved. These were the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh in his youth, and Israel’s establishment of the monarchy during his declining years. In both cases Samuel, the last of Israel’s Judges, was obliged to be the bearer of bad news.

He was a mere boy when, shortly before 1050 BC, Samuel was taken to Shiloh, consecrated to God, and placed under the guidance of that shrine’s last priest, Eli (1 Samuel 1:24–28; 2:11,18–20). Shiloh had been a central shrine of Israel for about a century and a half, ever since Joshua fixed it as the meeting place of the twelve tribes (Joshua 18:1). It was from there that the tribal representatives went forth to survey the Promised Land, and back to Shiloh they returned to cast lots for the division of the land (18:8–10; 19:51).

During the ensuing period of Israel’s judges, 1200 to 1050, Shiloh remained a regular place of pilgrimage (Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3, 7). At some point during that period, the Ark of the Covenant, previously placed at Bethel (Judges 20:26–27), was moved to Shiloh. It was near the Ark, within the shrine, that the boy Samuel slept, at least sometimes (1 Samuel 3:3).

One such night, indeed, provided what is perhaps the best-known scene in Samuel’s life. Three times the sleeping lad, hearing his name called out in the night, rose and went to learn what Eli wanted of him.

Eli, however, had not called him. Finally, this aged priest, suspecting the truth, instructed Samuel, should he hear his name invoked again, to answer, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears” (3:3–9). Samuel, yet abiding near the Ark, did so, and the Lord did speak to him, giving the boy his first experience of prophecy. It concerned the coming destruction of Shiloh and the end of Eli’s priesthood (3:11–14). Samuel was obliged to bear the bad news (3:17–18).

Tuesday, June 20

1 Samuel 4: A messenger runs 18 miles from the battlefield to the city of Shiloh, bringing tidings of the disaster. Eli, apparently waiting at a gate different from the one entered by the messenger, becomes the last person to here the message. The scene grows in drama: blind Eli, hearing the uproar and lamentation in the city, demands to know the reason (verses 13-16). We learn much of the soul of the old man from the fact that he is anxious less for the safety of his sons than for the fate of the Ark. Hence, the full effect of the message seizes him only when he learns of the seizure of the Ark: Falling backward from a stool, he dies of a broken neck (verse 17-18).

The ironic climax of the tragedy arrives when the pregnant wife of Phineas suddenly goes into labor, in reaction to learning the loss of her husband and father-in-law, along with the defeat of the army and the capture of the Ark. She dies after giving birth to a boy, on whom she confers the symbolic name Ichabod, “glory gone.”

Understanding this event within a larger biblical setting, two further reflections are appropriate.

First, in addition to the theological perspective of the author of Samuel, this story of the Ark’s exile should also be considered within the general perspective of the deuteronomic editor of the Bible’s historical material. Instructed by the Fall of Jerusalem and Israel’s experience of the Babylonian Captivity (587-538), this was the editor responsible for unifying the long narrative that runs from the Book of Deuteronomy to the end of Kings.

Within the context of this long history, the symbolism of Ichabod’s name attains its full meaning when the divine glory departed from Jerusalem in the greater tragedy of 587. The prophet Ezekiel described this “glory gone”: “Then the glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. And the cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight. When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them” (10:18-19).

Second, the narrative in this chapter is used in both the theme and structure of Psalm 78 (77), a lengthy historical meditation composed by Asaph, the choral master of David’s pre-Temple shrine in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:17-19). The long narrative of this psalm begins with the Battle of Aphek: “The children of Ephraim, armed and carrying bows, / Turned back in the day of battle. / They did not keep the covenant of God; / They refused to walk in His law, / And forgot His works / And His wonders that He had shown them” (verses 9-11).

Starting with this defeat, Asaph works backwards through Israel’s history: Just as these “children of Ephraim” forgot the things the Lord did for their fathers in the Desert Wandering (verses 12-39), so that earlier generation had forgotten what the Lord did before and during the Exodus (verses 40-53). Notwithstanding these sustained infidelities, the Lord brought the people to the Land of Promise, where they continued to offend and provoke Him (verses 54-59).

In response, the Lord then “forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, / The tent He had placed among men” (verse 60). This rejection of Shiloh, which returns the narrative of the psalm to its starting point, includes the loss of the Ark: The Lord “delivered His strength into captivity, / And His glory into the enemy’s hand” (verse 61).—
Wednesday, June 19

1 Samuel 5: The victorious Philistines now take the captured Ark of the Covenant and place it, as a votive offering, in the temple of their god, Dagon, in the city of Ashdod. Although they intended this ritual to signify the subjection of Israel’s God to Dagon, the latter does not fair well in the encounter (verses 1-5).

Dagon was local Syrian divinity adopted by the Philistines on their arrival in the region, roughly 1200 B.C. Although the exact derivation of his name is disputed, it is generally agreed that Dagon was god of fertility, and local legend made him the father of Baal. He had more than one temple in the region (cf. Judges 16:23; 1 Chronicles 10:10). Jonathan Maccabaeus destroyed his temple at Ashdod in 147 B.C. (1 Maccabees 10:83-84; 11:4).

The details of this story—particularly Dagon’s hands—render it curiously similar to the account of the ravished and slain woman in Judges 19:22-29). When her body is found, the woman lies at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold, similar to the hands of the prostrate Dagon. The woman is subsequently dismembered.

The Lord of the Ark, having disposed of the Philistine god, now turns to deal with the Philistines, wreaking havoc in three cities of their pentapolis (verses 8-12). The reader is reminded of the plagues visited on Egypt—both animal pests (Exodus 7:26—8:27; 10:1-15) and bodily affliction (Exodus 9:8-12), including death (Exodus 12:29-36). As the Ark is moved from city to city, Philistine panic intensifies. Its mere arrival at Ekron is sufficient to cause consternation, prior to any actual damage! In these descriptions, the biblical author is enjoying himself immensely.

Historians have variously identified the pestilence described here, the most severe suggestion being bubonic plague. Although interpretation would account for the rodents and the physical symptoms (buboes or glandular swellings, we should not permit a preoccupation with diagnosis obscure the author’s literary and rhetorical intention—to portray the affliction in terms of extreme discomfort and embarrassment. The King James Version, grasping this intention, identified the swellings as hemorrhoids. That is to say, the emphasis in this account is on anal distress.

Modern readers of this passage have presumed that the victims died on a bubonic infection. However, our earliest commentator on the story, Josephus (Antiquities 6.1.3), believed that death came from “dysentery.” (Let us forego his description.)

The theological message of this chapter rests on the common biblical theme of victory arising out of defeat. The Philistines had barely time to celebrate their supposed triumph when they began to suspect their mistake: They had swallowed what they could not digest. After a single night they found their god humiliated—and after a second night dismembered—by the object they had captured. Dagon was now unsafe in his own shrine. Israel’s Lord began to show the conqueror of the prematurely partying Philistines. The tables were turned. Instead of parading the Ark as the spoils in a victory parade, its transport becomes the Lord’s own victory march. The Philistines began to know how ancient Pharaoh felt, when the full force of the ten plagues made him eager for Israel to leave Egypt.

The triumph of the “defeated” Ark within Philistia was a prophecy of the victory of “defeated” Jesus over the forces of the nether world. Like the Philistines, Death had swallowed what it could not digest. St. John Chrysostom said it best: “The Savior’s death has set us free. ? He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh . . .. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven.”

Thursday, June 20

1 Samuel 6: This chapter chronicles the return of the Ark to Israel and the aftermath of that return.

In view of the havoc and consternation caused among the Philistines, as described in the previous chapter, its captors determine to send the Ark back to Israel. Seven months of torture have proved quite enough (verse 1).

Sensing they are out of their depth, these political leaders of Philistia—the heads of the five cities—resolve to find a religious solution to their problem. They are wary. Accordingly, they seek the guidance of the local religious experts: priests and shamans (verse 2). We recall that Pharaoh sought the counsel of such men, back in the days when Moses was a problem.

The counsel given by the priests and shamans is complex. There are two stages in the instruction:

First, a sort of reparation offering must accompany the return of the Ark. The need for this ritual gesture was perceived from the fact that the Philistines continued to be tormented by rodents and the physical malady described in the previous chapter. The Philistines fear that these problems may continue even after the Ark is returned, unless they effect some kind of reconciliation with Israel’s God (verse 3). They are advised, therefore, to fashion small sculptures—ornaments, as it were—to represent the hemorrhoids and the rodents (verses 4-5).

The narrator of this scene obviously enjoys its irony: Having endured dysentery and hemorrhoids for seven months, these Philistines now suffer from an anal fixation so severe they imagine that Israel’s God might be placated by a gift of golden hemorrhoids!

The obvious parallel here is with the account in Exodus, according to which the Israelites, when Pharaoh finally compelled them to leave Egypt, took gold and jewelry with them (Exodus 3:21; 11:2; 12:35-36; Psalms 105 [104]:37). This parallel serves mainly to heighten the improbability of jewelry shaped like hemorrhoids and mice.

The Philistines are certainly “winging it” here. They are totally confused, and they have no idea how the true God is to be honored. Their improvised liturgical experiment reminds the reader of the Ninevites, a few centuries later, who proclaim a citywide season of fasting in order to placate the wrath of Israel’s God. In this latter instance, we recall, even the livestock are forced to fast (Jonah 3:7; 4:11). Both biblical writers revel in ridiculing the clueless Gentiles—Philistines and Ninevites—who have benefited from no proper liturgical instruction. They must guess what to do: “Perhaps” (verse 5), “Who knows?” (Jonah 3:9)

The Philistines, for their part, compare their plight to that of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In both cases, hardness of heart is the great danger, and the Philistines are resolved to take instruction from Pharaoh’s mistake (verse 6; Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34).

Second, great care must be taken in the transport of the Ark back to Israel. Indeed, this transport become a sort of trial to determine whether or not the Philistines are really dealing with Israel’s God or simply circumstances of chance. Accordingly, the religious authorities advise, a brand new cart must be constructed, one never used for ordinary work. This cart must be drawn by nursing cows that have never been yoked. These must be separated from their suckling calves and, of their own accord, take the correct road to the nearest Israelite town. This complicated process, the Philistines reason, will guarantee that mere chance is not involved in the outcome. It is a sort of trial by ordeal.

When the Ark arrives at Bethshemesh, however, it is no less dangerous to the Israelites than it was to the Philistines. The rejoicing citizens of the place, apparently curious to learn if the contents of the Ark had been disturbed, unwisely open it and look inside. Being Levites (Joshua 21:16; 1 Chronicles 6:44), they should know better (Numbers 4:20), and they pay a heavy price for their presumption.

The tragedy at Bethshemesh is the climax in this story of the Ark’s power, which is felt by Israelite and Philistine alike. Both groups received the Ark with joy, but they are equally eager to be rid of it, once they experience their inability to control it.

The Bethshemites plead with their brethren at Kiriath-Jearim, some nine miles northeast, to come and relieve them of the Ark. To care for it, Eliezar ben Abinadab (cf. 2 Samuel 6:3) is consecrated.

The Ark’s history will be picked up again in 2 Samuel 6, where David arranges its transfer to Jerusalem. Its presence there will confer on the latter city, David’s capital, a historical connection, not only with Shiloh, but also with Bethel (Judges 20:27) and Shechem (Joshua 8:33). In the overview of the Deuteronomic editor, the Ark is the link of continuity joining Israel’s judges and kings.

Friday, June 21

First Samuel 7: This chapter begins on a chronological note: the twenty years during which the Ark of the Covenant remained at Kirjath Jearim. If this length of time is taken to indicate the whole period before the Ark’s removal to Jerusalem under David, it appears to be too short for adjustment into Old Testament chronology. It seems more likely, therefore, that the twenty years indicates the period prior to the battle described later in this chapter.

During these two decades, we are informed, Israel “mourned to the Lord” (according to the Hebrew) and “turned to the Lord” (according to the Greek). That is to say, it was a time of spiritual renewal, when the Israelites, under the maturing leadership of Samuel, did four things: yearned for the Lord, put away idols, committed themselves, and served the Lord alone (verses 3-4). Their resolve was expressed in a rededication, symbolized in fasting, a water libation (cf. Lamentations 2:19), the confession of sins, and a sacrifice accompanied by prayer (verses 5-6,9).

This rededication took place at Mizpah, one of the cities included in Samuel’s annual circuit as judge (verse 16). The site is probably to be identified with Tell en-Nasbeh, eight miles north of Jerusalem. Mizpah is the place where Israel will choose monarchy over the charismatic leadership exercised by Samuel and the Judges.

Those converted to the Lord should anticipate an experience of trial, and this sequence is illustrated in the story that follows: the Philistines, victorious in their last military encounter with Israel, are bent on battle (verse 7). Their prompt and dramatic rout is credited to Samuel’s intercessory prayer (verses 9-10). This is one incident (cf. 12:19) that strengthened the memory of Samuel as a champion of intercession (cf. Jeremiah 15:1; Psalms 99 [98]:6).

This victory comes from neither Israel’s military muscle nor Samuel’s martial leadership, but solely from the Lord, who puts the Philistines to confusion by a superlative display of thunder and lightning. References to this display are found in the hymns that begin (2:10) and end (2 Samuel 22:14) the original Book of Samuel.

The erection of a ceremonial stone to commemorate this victory (verse 12) has many parallels throughout military history.

In the general narrative development of this book, the present chapter represents the countervailing voices of those not convinced that Israel truly needed a king. In subsequent chapters—but especially at Mizpah in chapter 10—the opposite view would eventually prevail: Israel would have its king. Still, the book’s author determined that both sides of the argument should be heard. For him—and for the book’s final editors in the late sixth century—the material in this chapter bears witness that Israel needed no king but the Lord. What Israel did need was mourning, conversion, rededication, fasting, and prayer. The “rock of help”—Ebenezer—stood in silent but eloquent testimony to this thesis. The full significance of Israel’s experiment with monarchy was complex, but that complexity included the fact that monarchy, over the centuries, led to Israel’s historical ruin. No one knew this better than the survivors of 587 B. C.