June 15, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Trinity Sunday, June 16-22

Monday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Num 16:1-14, Lk. 1:1-25
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Ezra 1:1-8, Acts 7:1-16

Commentary, Ezra 1:1-8

The book of Ezra is part of a section of the Old Testament that tells the
history of Israel from creation to the return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity. Genesis through Esther comprise this history, being followed in the Bible by the books, often called, Wisdom Literature, consisting of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. The Wisdom Literature is followed by the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.

Like all Scripture, Ezra is organised around the ideas it intends to teach, and
the first part, consisting of chapters 1-7 gives a short history of the Jews
since the day Cyrus of Persia issued a decree allowing the Jews to return home
and rebuild the Temple. You will remember that Israel divided into two nations
after the death of Solomon. One nation, made up of the ten northern tribes,
retained the name Israel. The second nation consisted of the tribes of Benjamin
and Judah, and was known as Judah. Israel suffered social and religious
decline, and, in 605 B.C., was defeated in the devastating battle of Carchemish.
The Israelites then largely adopted the ways and religions of their Gentile
conquerors, and virtually lost their identity as the people of God. In the New
Testament they are known as Samaritans. The Judeans, later known as "Jews," also
experienced decline, and were conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. They
were forced to leave their homes and live in Babylon, thus, this era is known as
the Babylonian Captivity. In 538, Cyrus of Persia, having conquered the
declining Babylonian Empire, began a goodwill campaign with those nations the
Babylonians had relocated to Babylon. He allowed them to return to their
homelands, even giving them financial and military aid. This had the desired
effect of promoting loyalty toward him, for the newly freed peoples considered
Persia their liberator rather than their conqueror. Ezra 1:1-4 records Cyrus'
degree to the Jews, and verses 5-11 records the Jews' return to Jerusalem, which
occurred in 536. Thus we see the hand of Providence guiding history and
accomplishing the purpose of God. The point of this passage is not that Cyrus
was a good ruler. It is not an object lesson in the principles of good
leadership. It is that God is still working with His people to accomplish His
purpose of Redemption. He created this world for the purpose of bringing all
things together in Christ. He is building His Kingdom, the Bride of Christ, and
nothing can stop His progress. Yes, there are other messages here. The
enduring mercy of God, His unstoppable power to save, conversion, repentance,
and faith, and leaders can certainly profit from the example of Cyrus. But the
pervading message here is the unstoppable progress of the purpose of God. He
will accomplish the purpose for which He created this world and called the Jews.
He will not fail.

Tuesday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 5, Num. 16:15-35, Lk. 1:26-38
Evening - Ps. 16, 20, Ezra 4:7-24, Acts 7:17-34

Commentary, Ezra 4:7-24

The first chapter of the book of Ezra records the decree of Cyrus releasing the Jews from captivity in Babylon.  In 536 B.C. the first of several groups of Jews left Babylon and arrived in Jerusalem, the return of one group is recorded in Ezra 2.  Almost immediately they attempted to rebuild the Temple, which had been plundered and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. Chapter 3 records rebuilding the altar and reinstating the offerings and feasts required in the Old Testament law. As the work progressed, more people arrived from Babylon, including priests and Levites "to set forward the work of the house of the Lord" (3:8). Their labours reulted in the admirable task of laying the foundation of the new Temple, a feat accompanied by much celebration, and a few tears (3:12-13).  In chapter 4, adversaries of Judah ask to be allowed to help with the Temple, but are refused.  The adversaries were descendants of Israelites who had intermarried with Gentiles. They had also diluted their faith with pagan ideas and worship.  On the surface their appeal to help rebuild the Temple appears good, and the rejection of their offer by the Jews (Ez. 4:2) seems cruel and arrogant.  But perhaps the Jews understood that watered down, adulterated religion had to be rejected, and to allow its practitioners to help rebuild the Temple would be to invite their erroneous faith into it when completed.  It was just that kind of religious compromise that brought the judgment of God upon the Jews in the first place, and they had no intention of returning to it at that time.

Rather than repenting of their sin and purging themselves of false religion, the adversaries began to make trouble for the Jews (4:4-6), even making false accusations to the king that the Jews were preparing to mount a rebellion against Persia (4:8-16).  Believing the accusation to be true, the Persians sent an army to Jerusalem to stop the rebuilding of the Temple by force of arms (4:23-24).

Thus chapter two ends with another foereign army occupying Jerusalem and enforcing a halt to the Jews' plan to return to the law and the covenant of God.  The Jews must have been angry, but they must ahve also had questions.  Weren't they trying to obey God?  Weren't they trying to do what the Bible commands?  Why isn't God making it easy for them?  Why does He allow yet another army in Jerusalem to stop their progress?

Most of us face similar questions every day.  We try to obey God, but, rather than making the way easy, and rewarding our efforts with success, we often find our way blocked by the armies of our enemies.  Overcoming one obstacle reveals not a clear and easy road ahead, but more and greater obstacles.  It may be that our thinking needs to change if we are going to continue with Christ rather than give up in dispair.  Many have adopted the popular view that the Christian life is a luxury ride through life.  It is not.  It is a constant struggle with the world the flesh and the devil.  We must expect this if we are not to be disappointed.  Remember that our reward is in Heaven, not on earth.  Here we are merely pilgrims.  Our homes and our rest is in Heaven.    

Wednesday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 7, Num. 17:1-11, Lk. 1:39-56
Evening - Ps. 25, Haggai 1:1-15, Acts 7:35-53

Commentary, Haggai, 1:1-15

The Prophet Haggai lived and ministered in Jerusalem after the return from the Babylonian Captivity.  His work began in the second year of Darius, who ruled the Empire from 522-486 B.C.  So Haggai began his ministry around the year 520.  His message is that the Temple of the Lord must be rebuilt.  Nearly leveled in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem, Cyrus of Persia gave permission and funds to rebuild it, yet fourteen years after their release from Babylon, only the Temple's foundations have been laid.

Haggai asks the Jews why they work diligently on their own houses, yet let the House of God lie waste (Hag. 1:4).  Applying this to the modern situation is easy.  How fervently we see people, maybe even our own selves, building their own "houses" and neglecting the House of God.  Our work, our amusements, our prosperity, our comfort, and our pleasure consume our energy and time, while day after day the Bible and Christian life are neglected. Sundays find us indulging our own pleasures while the House of God is ignored.

Haggai reminds all people that God is not blind to this, nor does He bless it.  He tells the Jews their neglect of God is the reason they have sown much to the flesh (see Gal. 6:7-8) but have reaped little harvest for their labours. In the same way, people today who put their efforts into the things of the world, to the neglect of the things of God, will reap a bitter harvest.  There is nothing in this world that can give happiness and purpose to life.  Worldly things may give pleasure for the moment, but it fades quickly.  Only God remains forever, and only those who find their happiness in Him will be truly happy, now, and for eternity.
The Jews heard the words of Haggai and repented.  The Lord stirred up their hearts and they obeyed (1:12-15).  Through much work, sacrifice, and, even danger, the Temple was completed.  Those in our own age who have neglected the House of God will also expend much effort, sacrifice, and no small amount of spiritual danger as they try to re-establish Godly habits of life and worship.  But the greatest danger of all is failure to obey.  "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8).

Thursday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 9, Num. 20:1-13, Lk. 1:57-66
Evening - Ps. 27, Haggai 2:1-9, Acts 7:54-8:4

Commentary, Haggai 2:1-9

The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed when Babylon sacked the city in 586 B.C. 
That Temple is often called Solomon's Temple because it was built while he was king of Israel, and it was largely financed by him through a system of forced labour and foreign trade that made Solomon fabulously wealthy but caused a grassroots feeling of resentment among the Hebrew people.  The Temple reflected his wealth.  In Haggai's day things were different.  Jerusalem was in ruins and Judah was in poverty.  Even with the funds given by Cyrus, the Temple would be a poor reflection of the glory of Solomon's Temple (Hag. 2:3).

Or would it?  Perhaps the real glory of the Temple cannot be found in its dimensions or ornaments.  Perhaps the Temple's real glory is measured by other things, like the faith of the people, obedience to God's law, and Scriptural worship.  Maybe the real glory of the Temple is something even greater than that; maybe it is something that cannot be given or removed by people.  Maybe it is the glory of God dwelling in it that is its true glory.  This is the point God is making through the prophet Haggai.  And God intends to make His Temple more glorious than the people of Jerusalem in 520 B. C. could imagine.  In a little while (2:6) God was going to shake the nations, and the Desire of Nations would come, and God would fill the Temple with His glory (2:7).  The Desire of Nations is Christ.  He filled the Temple with glory when He was taken there as a young child, when He later confounded the Doctors at Passover, and when He taught the people there during His ministry.  He filled it with glory when He accomplished the salvation it could only foreshadow, and when He gave Himself as the Lamb of God which alone is able to take away sins.  He filled it with glory when, in the true Holy of Holies in Heaven, He offered the true sacrifice.  He filled it with glory when He rose from the grave and ascended into the true Temple of God.  He fills it with glory now in the days of His new Temple, the Church.  In the Church He brings the nations into His Kingdom, proclaims His Word, dwells by His Spirit, and gives the kind of peace a Temple built by human hands could never give.

Friday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 10, Num. 20:14, Lk. 1:67
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Zech 1:7-17, Acts 8:5-25

Commentary, Zachariah 1:1-7

Zechariah is another of those short books at the end of the Old Testament called the Minor Prophets.  Though not in the scheduled reading for tonight, Zech 1:1 tells us he began his ministry in the second year of Darius.  Thus, we know that Zechariah and Haggai began their work in the same year, 520 B.C. (Hag. 1:1).  Looking at the first verses of both books we see their ministries began within two months of each other.  Naturally, their messages compliment one another.  Both were concerned to get the new Temple built.  Haggai told the people it was wrong for them to work so hard to establish their own houses, yet neglect the House of God.  Zechariah was determined to show why they were willing to neglect the House of God.  It was because their hearts were not with God.  They were starting to fall back into the ways of their fathers (1:3-4).  They were beginning to be content with an outward show of religion and a general intellectual assent to the being of God as revealed in Scripture.  They were willing to live in general conformity  with the moral and ceremonial law of God, but they lacked a sense of belonging to God, of being His people, of being loved by Him and of loving Him back with all their heart and soul and might (Dt:6:4-5).  Thus, they really loved themselves above God, so they worked for their own advancement, and neglected the things of God.

We often see the same thing in professed believers today.  They give mental assent to the doctrines and moral values of the Bible.  They live decent lives.  They believe the things Christian people are supposed to believe.   But these things are held as something outside of them.  They are like the scenery through which a train passes, when they ought to be the fire that drives the locomotive.  Love for God ought to be the driving force of life; that one Thing that gives the direction and purpose to every other aspect of our being.  Mankind lost that love for God when we fell into sin.  We rejected God, and we chose to love ourselves more than we loved Him.  Christ died to free us from that kind of self love, for it is destructive and deadly to everything it touches.  And Christ died to return us to the spiritual condition of loving God first of all and with our all.  Faith that does not move a person in that direction is not faith at all by Biblical standards.  It is a form of Godliness which denies the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:4-5).  Thus, God, through Zechariah, urges and beseeches the people to be not like their fathers in their sin.

Three months after the message of Zechariah 1:1-6 was given, the Lord spoke again to Zechariah (1:7).  This word came in a vision of a Man among the myrtle trees receiving a report from riders who have returned from walking to and fro through the earth (1:10).  The Man is Christ Jesus, and the riders report that the earth is at rest.  There is peace in the Persian EmpirePersia is strong and secure, and there is none to disturb her rest (1:11).  But all is not well, for the Lord Himself is displeased with the people of Persia.  They are the heirs of the Babylonians who attacked and brutalised the Jews.  Even now they trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the Temple of God.  In this they have inflicted more sorrow upon the Jews than God intended (1:15).  The Babylonian Captivity was God's will.  He allowed it to chasten the Jews for their sin, to humble them, to lead them to depend upon Him again.  In 520 the time of chastisement is over, yet the Gentiles will not cease their troubling of the Jews.  So God assures the Jews He is with them again in mercy (1:16). Jerusalem, He promises, will prosper, along with God's people around the world (1:17).  This promise has an immediate meaning to the Jews in Jerusalem.  They did prosper, and the Temple of God was rebuilt.  But its primary meaning is fulfilled in Christ and His Church.  Through Christ the House of God was built in Jerusalem, and through His House, He has gathered people into it around the world.  In Christ He has blessed the New Jerusalem with prosperity and posterity the frightened inhabitants could scarcely imagine when Zechariah spoke these words.

Saturday after Trinity Sunday


Morning - Ps. 13, 14, Num. 21:4-9, Lk. 2:1-20
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Zech. 2, Acts, 8:26

Commentary, Zechariah 2

Why is the man measuring Jerusalem?  To show its dimensions, meaning, to show that it has dimensions.  It has boundaries, breadth and length (Zech. 2:1-2).   There is a point where Jerusalem begins, and a point where it ends.  But the day will come when its walls will not be able to contain its people and goods (2:4).  Its wall will be a wall of fire, not of stones, a living wall of God Himself (2:5).  God will dwell in it (2:10), and people of many nations will be joined to it(2:11).

These promises refer to the Jews in 520 B.C. Their feeble efforts and the seemingly plain and small Temple they build seem as nothing compared to the old one. Their city, small, weak, and impoverished, seems to them as a poor imitation of the old Jerusalem. But God has great things in store for them. The Temple of God will be great in all the earth, and the city of Jerusalem will be a city that cannot be contained by any wall but the presence of God. These promises were fulfilled in part by the rebuilding of the Temple and the city, and by the return to Jerusalem of Jews who had been scattered among many peoples and many nations. But this is only a partial fulfillment. The real fulfillment is found in Christ and His Church.

Few Old Testament passages speak so clearly of the Church of Christ in the New Testament.  The Church, which is the New Jerusalem, is a city encompassing multitudes of many nations.  Jews and Gentiles alike are welcomed into it.  Walls cannot contain its multitudes.  God, by His Spirit, dwells in it.

Let all flesh be silent before the Lord; "for He is raised up out of His holy habitation."

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