July 29, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, Week of July 28- August 2

Monday

Morning - Ps. 39, 1 Sam. 1:12-20, Lk. 11:37
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Dan. 2:14-24, Acts 20:17

Commentary, Daniel 2:14-24

None of the wise men of Babylon were able to tell the king's dream; therefore, he issued an order that they should all be executed.  While this may be cruel, Nebuchadnezzar has realised that they are all pretenders.  In his anger he plans to rid his kingdom of their lies.  Daniel, however, asks the king to wait a while before putting his plan into action (2:15&16), promising that he would tell both the dream and its interpretation.

Verses 17 and 18 show Daniel and his companions seeking God in prayer.  They are asking God to give Daniel understanding that he may not be killed with the rest of the wise men.  God does not always answer our prayers "yes," but He did this time.  In fact, we can see that it is the providence of God that has orchestrated this whole event.  It is God who gave the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, and God who kept it from the false prophets and wise men of Babylon.  In this He showed the falsehood of their religions and powers.  And it was God who gave the interpretation to Daniel.  In this He shows that He is the One God, who sets the order of times and seasons, raises up and casts down kings and empires, and has revealed the dark and secret things of the king's heart to Daniel.  It is worthy of note that Daniel had pity on the wise men of Babylon.  He desired not their death, but that they might see the hand of God, and worship Him.

Tuesday

Morning - Ps. 45, 1 Sam. 1:21-2:11, Lk. 12:1-12
Evening - Ps. 49, Dan 2:25-35, Acts 21:1-14

Commentary, Daniel 2:25-35

The inability of the pagan magicians to know and interpret the king's dream shows the falsehood of their entire religion (2:27).  Daniel's ability to know and interpret it shows that there is a God in Heaven (2:28) and it is the God worshiped by Daniel. He has revealed the dream to Nebuchadnezzar and its meaning to Daniel (2:30).

There is an implicit question in these verses; if the wise men of Babylon, through their magic and spells and gods, cannot discern this dream, which is obviously an important message from God, why consult them any more?  Nebuchadnezzar had already decided not to, in fact, he intended to kill them.  But what about the Jews?  They had been brought low by trusting in false prophets and false religions.  It was for this sin that God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer them.  They needed to be shown that there is a God in Heaven, and He is the God of Israel.

It was common practice in those days for a defeated nation to believe their god had been defeated by the conqueror's god.  The Jews, having been deeply influenced by pagan thought for many generations, may have thought the Babylonian gods were stronger than The God, and that, in some kind of cosmic battle, they had defeated God, and thus, were able to defeat Judah.  God here shows to His people that He is still The God, The One God, The Only God.  The idols of Babylon did not defeat the Jews, their own sins did.

Therefore, why not follow God?  Why not turn to Him in Biblical faith and be His people and receive His blessings?  This is being imprinted upon the Jewish people in this passage.



Wednesday

Morning - Ps. 56, 1 Sam. 2:18-26, Lk. 12:13-21
Evening - Ps. 62, 63, Dan. 2:36-45, Acts 21:15-26

Commentary, Danile 2:36-45

Tonight we are told the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.  The great image of verse 31 represents kings and empires of the earth that will rise and fall, beginning with Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar.  He is a mighty king over many kings, but his empire will not last forever.  As Babylon's power fades, another empire will rise and conquer it.  This empire will not be as great or extensive as Babylon (39).  It, too, will fall into decay and be conquered by a third, which will also fall into decline and be conquered by a fourth.  This empire will be strong as iron, breaking and subduing the earth with great power and cruelty (40).  But it will not be invincible, for it has feet of clay.  It has a vulnerable spot, a weakness (42).  It, too, shall fall.

In the days of these kings and empires, "shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (44).  What is this Kingdom?  It is the Kingdom of the Messiah.  He is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, meaning His Kingdom is not established by the might and works of man.  He breaks the other empires to pieces and consumes them (45).  They may appear mighty, and unassailable to themselves and to the world, but God can raise them up and cast them down at will.  They may think they will last forever, but others will rise and take their places, and they will become but memories.  It is the Messiah's Kingdom that will last forever.  He is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever.

We know that the first empire is Babylon and the fourth is Rome, for it is during the time of Rome that the Messiah came to earth to establish His Kingdom.  There are some questions about the meaning of the other two.  Some have thought the empires are Babylon, Media, Persia, Grecco-Roman.  Others have thought they may be Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, Rome.  Obviously both groupings name all the empires leading up to the birth of the Messiah, so it may not matter terribly which is "correct."  It is a minor point anyway.  The major point is that they will fade into oblivion and the Kingdom of the Messiah will be the only Kingdom that will last forever.  Therefore, do not put your trust in human empires that wax and wane like the moon.  Do not be troubled by them, as though they will last forever.  Trust in the Lord and dwell in His Kingdom by faith.

This is the message being given to the captive Jews.  They have followed false religions, and are now in the power of an idolatrous empire.  But this empire is not almighty.  It will soon begin to fade and another will take its place, and then another, and then another.  But the promises of God given to Israel will endure as long as God endures, and will come to pass as surely as He is God Almighty.  The Messiah will come, and He will come in the days of these empires.  Trust in God.

Thursday

Morning - Ps.65, 1 Sam. 3:1-18, Lk. 12:22-34
Evening - Ps.66, Dan. 3:1-7, Acts 21:27-36

Commentary, Daniel 3:1-7

Daniel 2 closes with Nebuchadnezzar recognising the God of Israel, and honoring Daniel with wealth and position.  Like so many "conversions," it did not last, and chapter three finds him setting up an idol to be worshiped by all in his realm.  The worship was attended with great show and ceremony.  A great band was gathered to call the people to worship (3:4) and the people bowed to their knees and prayed to the idol. Speeches were probably given by the religious leaders, extolling the greatness of Babylon and of Nebuchadnezzar.  It is very possible that this was a new religion set up by Nebuchadnezzar to compete with the older Babylonian religions which had failed to interpret his dream.  It is very likely that Nebuchadnezzar was installing himself as the head of this religion, and may even have been proclaiming himself as a messenger of the goods, or even a god himself.  It is certain that he placed himself at the very center of this religion. 

He did not require the people to stop worshiping other gods.  He only required that they worship the idol in addition to whatever other gods they may have worshiped.  This would have the effect of unifying the people around one god, and, of course, around Nebuchadnezzar. The polytheistic Babylonians would have no problem with the new religion.  Even most of the Jews, long accustomed to accommodating their faith to the prevailing trends, would willingly and thoughtlessly worship the image.  But three young, Jewish men, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were about to face a major challenge which would show the power of the Living God to all, and encourage the Jews to return to Him in faith.

Friday

Morning - Ps. 69, 1 Sam. 4:1-11, Lk. 12:35-48
Evening - Ps. 71, Dan. 3:8-18, Acts 21:37-22:16

Commentary, Daniel 3:8-18

It is suggested to Nebuchadnezzar that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego refused to worship the idol because they had no regard for the king (3:12).  The idea presented is that they hold the king and his laws in derision, and openly refuse his laws only because of their contempt for Nebuchadnezzar.  The king is outraged at this, though he should have known better.  He commands the men to be brought before him immediately (3:13).  Perhaps the king remembers the service of these men, and that their God gave Daniel the interpretation of his dream.  He offers them an opportunity to save their lives by worshiping the idol at the next service.  But the king has also made his decree, and to back away from it now would make him appear weak.  If people can break this law with impunity, why not others also?  Of course, the only right thing for the king to do is to repent of his sin and idolatry and begin to worship the Living God.  But his pride and rage will not allow this. Nebuchadnezzar has challenged God, saying He will not be able to deliver them from his hand (3:15).

The Jews' response to Nebuchadnezzar is direct.  "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter" (3:16).  They are simply saying they are not afraid to give a direct and honest answer to the king's question because they are not afraid of him."  Their reply is essentially this:  God is able to deliver anyone from anything, and He can deliver us from you.  But whether He delivers us or lets us die in the furnace, we will not worship your idol or your gods (3:17-18).

There is a great lesson here for the Church in any age.  Finding themselves in the midst of a pagan and unbelieving culture, these young men did not compromise with it. They did not join it, did not accept its values, did not become a part of it. They did not defile themselves with it, as we see when they refused the king's meat and ate only "kosher" food (1:8). Compromise would have been easy.  Blending into the culture would have been easy.  But they remained apart and separate.  They remained true to God.  We live in a similar situation and we are tempted to accommodate our lives and values to the prevailing culture.  We cannot afford to compromise.  Like Daniel, we work and live among the people of the world, and like Daniel, we seek their good and will be good citizens of the lands in which God has placed us.  But our identity and culture is always that of the Church of Jesus Christ.

They also would not defile themselves with the religion of the worldly culture.  Today we live in an age of accommodation and syncretism.  Christians are importing doctrines and practices from other religions, and from the cultures in which we live.  These Jews refused to do so and the Bible presents their refusal as pleasing to God.

Saturday

Morning - Ps. 72, 1 Sam.4:12, Lk. 12:49
Evening - Ps. 15, 46, Dan. 3:19, Acts 22:17-29

Commentary, Daniel 3:19

The events of today's reading are well known.  Not only were the men not burned, though the furnace was exceedingly hot, they were visited by Christ in the furnace (3:25), and they were exalted and promoted by the king (3:30).
                    
In the true form of tyranny, Nebuchadnezzar, probably thinking he is doing God a favour, decrees that anyone who speaks anything amiss against God "shall be cut to pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill" (3:29).  While this order served to preserve the Jews, it is not what God's people want from the world, nor does it promote God's true religion and virtue.  It is the internal rule of God in the heart that truly honours God

July 20, 2014

Scripture and Comments, July 21-26

Monday, July 21
                          
Morning - Ps. 11, 12, Ruth 2:1-13, Lk. 9:46
Evening - Ps. 8, 19, Acts 18:1-11

Commentary, Ruth 2:1-13

Naomi may have returned to Israel empty, but God had much good in store for her.  By his providence He works all things to good for His people, and He will bring good to Naomi in spite of her sin and lukewarm faith. By His providence He brings Naomi into contact with her wealthy brother in law, Boaz.  It was not Naomi who made plans to glean the fields of Boaz, it was Ruth (2:2).  Ruth even dared to hope Boaz would be favourably disposed toward her.  By God's grace, he was.  It was not chance that brought him from Bethlehem.  It was not chance that caused him to see this unknown woman gleaning in his field.  It was not chance that he felt kindly toward her and gave her far more than simply the leftovers of the crop.  It was Providence.  God caused Boaz to learn of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and of her leaving the land of Moab to join herself to Israel (2:11).  He desired God to bless her, and intended to be an instrument of His good will toward her (2:12-13).

There is much to learn of God's grace in this passage.  We, like Naomi have sinned and strayed from God like lost sheep.  We have dwelt among the heathen and neglected our duties to God.  Our rebellion has been costly, for we have reaped what we have sown and we have found ourselves empty in our souls.  But God is rich in mercy.  In His Providence He has brought us to our Kinsman Redeemer and into His house and home.  He has given us all that He has, as an adoring husband to his loving wife.  We came to God empty, but He has made us full.

Tuesday, July 22

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 17, Ruth 2:14, Lk. 10:1-24
Evening - Ps. 3, 14,  Acts 18:12-23

Commentary, Ruth 2:14

The heart of today's reading in Ruth is found in verse 20.  Naomi is suffering through the dark night of the soul.  She seems to have had an exceptionally close and happy relationship with her family.  Now her beloved husband is dead, along with her two dear sons. The people who made her life worth living have been ripped from hear heart, and her grief at this loss must have been almost unbearable.  Added to this grief is the loss of her home and income, so that she is plunged into poverty so deep she becomes a beggar who has to rely on charity for her food.    She knows that, if her neighbors are not charitable, or if food is scarce, she and her daughter in law will face death by slow starvation in the coming winter.

It is difficult for us to imagine the deep, deep sorrow, anger, and despair that grips Naomi's heart, though we can see how it would be compounded by her nominal faith.  But a spark of Godly hope is ignited within her when she sees the food brought to her by Ruth.  Ruth has brought not only grain, but also a significant portion of the meal given to her earlier that day (2:14 & 18)-19).  She hears the good tidings that Boaz has provided an abundant supply of food for them (2:15-16, 21-23).  But verse 20 is the real turning point in Naomi's life.  Learning that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz, Naomi realises that it is the Providence and Grace of God that took Ruth to the fields this day. Her words, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead," show that Naomi realises God intends to heal her wounded soul and restore her heritage in Israel.  Boaz is required by Covenant Law to marry Ruth and provide children to inherit the property of her husband's father.  He also has the wealth and power to redeem the property and return it to Ruth, and to Naomi.  Naomi's words express her conversion.  In these words, she confesses her faith in God, and takes her rightful place as a daughter of the Covenant.

In a very real sense, Boaz is a picture our Redeemer-Kinsman, our Lord Christ.  He has power and the will to provide for the needs of life and to redeem us from the poverty in our souls.  As God, though the kindness and faithfulness of Boaz, healed Naomi of the wounds in her soul and made her a child of the Covenant, Christ heals our souls and makes us children of grace.  As Boaz had the power to redeem the property of Elimelech and make Naomi, Ruth, and her children heirs of land in Israel, Christ has power to redeem our souls and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Naomi realises God is working out the redemption of her property and her soul.  Thus she gives thanks to God for His kindness to her, the living, and to her husband and sons, the dead.  Their heritage in Israel will continue.

Wednesday, July 23

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 20, 21:1-6, Ruth 3:1-13, Lk. 10:25-37
Evening - Ps. 27, Acts 18:24-19:7

Commentary, Ruth 13:1-13

The events of the third chapter of Ruth seem strange to modern Christians. To put them in chronological order we see that the harvest is over and the time to thresh the grain has come.  Boaz has dealt kindly with Naomi and Ruth, and it is due to him that the women have been able to gather enough food to keep them well supplied until the next year's harvest.  Boaz, who lives in Bethlehem, has come to one of his threshing houses to winnow the barely, meaning to separate the grain from the hull and bits of leaves and stalks, called, "chaff."  That part seems plain and normal to us, but what is this sneaking around in the dark and uncovering Boaz's feet?  It is simply this; Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her and to redeem the property of her husband, now under lease to someone else, due to Naomi's poverty (4:3).

According to Old Testament law, the brother of a man who died without children was to marry his brother's widow, and father a child who would inherit the land and property of the deceased man.  This was done so that the name of the deceased would continue in Israel, and that his family would always possess his portion of the land.  According to Old Testament law, the land of Israel was given as a heritage to the people.  Therefore, it could not be sold, but could be leased out until the year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original owner or his heirs.  An Israelite usually only leased his property out because of severe financial problems, so there was a provision that a near kinsman could buy back the lease and return the property to its rightful owners.  This was called "redeeming" the land.

When Ruth went to Boaz at night, she did nothing immoral.  She simply asked Boaz to marry her.  That is the meaning of verse 9.  Had Boaz spread his "skirt," or, blanket over her, he would have been asking her to lie beside him as his wife, and they would be considered married.  Boaz specifically did not invite her, but rather turned her away telling her that a nearer kinsman had the duty to marry her, but he would certainly do so if the other man consented.

It is significant that the Hebrew word for kinsman can also mean "redeemer."   To marry his brother's widow a man would also redeem his property for his heirs if it had been leased to another.  Thus, Boaz is addressed by Ruth as her near kinsman and redeemer.  We see here a picture of the love of Christ for His Church.  He is her redeemer who purchases her place in the Kingdom of God.  He is also her husband who loves her for eternity.

Thursday, July 24

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 25, Ruth 4:1-8, Lk. 10:28-11:13
Evening - Ps. 30, 31:1-6, Acts 19:8-20

Commentary, Ruth 4:1-8

Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and found the man who was a closer kinsman than himself. This man was willing to redeem the property of Naomi until he learned he would also have to marry Ruth.   Marrying her would mean the property would not belong to him, but to Ruth's children.  He would, therefore, be buying the property for Naomi, Ruth, and Ruth's children.  This was the intent of this custom.  It served to keep widows and children out of poverty, not provide extra land to those who could afford it.  This man was willing to redeem the land when it appeared it would profit him.  When he saw it would not, he passed it on to Boaz.  Thus, Boaz receives the right to marry Ruth and provide for the prosperity of Naomi and Ruth.

This is very important for it secures the place of Naomi and Ruth in the Covenant people of God.  They have a share in the heritage of Israel, which symbolises that they have a "share" in God.  They are truly now part of Israel, the redeemed of God.

Friday, July 25

Lectionary                

Morning - Ps. 26, Ruth 4:9-22, Lk. 11:14-28
Evening - Ps. 32, 36:5,  Daniel 1:1-21, Acts 19:21

Commentary, Ruth 4:9-22

This morning brings us to the close of the book of Ruth.  It is very tempting to spend time on the details of the events in today's reading, but we will instead go right to the major points of the passage. 

First, the conversion of Ruth is complete.  In the beginning of the book she was a pagan citizen of one of the bitterest enemies of Israel, Moab.  In today's reading she is the mother of a child who inherits the property of Elimelech and Naomi, and of their sons.  In the beginning she was an alien to the people of God, and to the promises of God given to Israel.  Now she is a full citizen and participant in them.  She is fully a daughter of the Covenant.  So here is a woman, who grew up outside of the Church and without instruction in the Scriptures, who is welcomed into the Church by the grace of God.  Thus, it is faith, not background that makes one a child of God.  A person who has never yet been in Church is as welcome as those who have been raised in it.  They, like Ruth, may freely come to God.

Second, the conversion of Naomi is complete.  Naomi is back in the Covenant people, with a grandchild who will carry on the family name in Israel.  More than this, she is reconciled to God.  At the beginning of the book she was in sin and unbelief. Now her faith is as real as her place among the Covenant people.  She, too, is a true daughter of the Covenant and child of God.  Naomi was raised in Israel, with all the blessings and opportunities to know God and learn the Scriptures that the Hebrew people enjoyed.  Yet she gave only lip service to God, preferring to follow the ways of the world. Many today, having the same opportunities, throw them away as Naomi did.  Raised in the Church with countless opportunities to learn the Scripture and know Christ, they fritter away their opportunities in youth, and, in adulthood, and form the habit of neglecting the Word and House of God.  They may retain a nominal belief in God.  They may even try to live moral lives and have great respect for the Bible.  But their hearts are not in it.  When Christ commands them, "Follow Me," they draw back and ask, "How far?"  Naomi was such a person, but in today's reading she has turned to God in true faith.  All who have followed Naomi's example away from God may also follow her example back to Him.  Those who do will find God as willing to welcome them as He was to welcome Naomi.  Draw nigh unto Him and He will draw nigh unto you.

Third, God chose Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David.  She was David's Great Grandmother.  One of the main points of the book of Ruth is to show the life of the immediate forbearers of David, and to serve as an introduction to the call and life of David as king of Israel.

Fourth, the guiding hand of God is always upon His people.  The time in which Naomi and Ruth lived was a chaotic time of rampant sin and open rejection of God.  Some Israelites, like Elimelech and Naomi, left Israel to dwell among the pagans.  Others simply incorporated pagan ideas and values into the Old Testament faith.  Both actions were wrong, and their practitioners paid dearly.  But God did not desert Israel, nor did He allow their sins to stop His plan to bring all things together in Christ.  He brought David into the world by His providence and grace, and through David's line, the Saviour was born, in "the fulness of the time." 

Saturday, July 26

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, 1 Sam. 1:1-11, Lk. 11:29-36
Evening - Ps. 47, 48, Dan. 2:1-13, Acts 20:1-16

Commentary, Daniel 2:1-13

We began reading in Daniel last night, and will be in it until mid August.  It is a story of people holding fast to the faith when all the props have been removed and the general direction of the surrounding culture is hostile. The story takes place in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and deported the Jews to captivity in Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar had some of the Jewish boys selected to be instructed in the learning of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).  These were to be descendants of the king and nobility of Judah, without defect, and showing promise of intellectual ability.  Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make Babylonians of them, and use them to influence the Jews to accept Babylonian rule.  Children from other nations readily agreed to live in the palace and learn of Babylon, but the Jewish children did not.  They retained their Jewish identity, including eating only "Kosher" food.  And "God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (1:17).

It would be very difficult for anyone to resist the gentle brainwashing of the Babylonians.  Separated from their parents, told they are the best and brightest children in all the land, promised privilege and prosperity, it would have been nearly impossible for an adult to remain true to God.  Yet these young men did.  In the days ahead we will read their stories and see the hand of Providence guiding God's people, even in this dark and dangerous hour.


Tonight's reading takes us to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.  He knew his dream was important, and needed someone to tell him what it meant.  But the seers and astrologers often lied to kings to protect themselves.  They told kings what they wanted to hear instead of the truth, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted the truth.  So he decreed that the wise men, the astrologers and seers, would be required to tell him the content of his dream and its meaning.  Those who could not, were considered useless pretenders and would be executed by being cut to pieces and their property taken and turned into dumps (2:5 &12). 

July 13, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, July 14-19

Monday, July 14

Morning - Ps.119:49-64, Judges 13:1-24, Lk. 8:16-25
Evening - Ps. 119:65-80, Acts. 15:36-16:5
                                                 
Commentary, Judges 13

The morning readings over the past two weeks have brought us to the beginning of the life and work of one of the Bible's most famous people, Samson.  Samson was one of the judges of Israel.  These were not courtroom judges trying cases.  They were military leaders who organised the tribes of Israel into forces that were able to fend off the attacks of the Canaanites.  You may remember that Israel was told to drive the Canaanites out of the land when they returned from the Egyptian bondage.  They failed to accomplish this.  They did defeat the Canaanites enough to minimise them as a military threat, but rather than completely driving them out of Israel, the Hebrews settled down among them and began the process of building homes and farms and shops and enjoying the Promised Land.  At first this appears harmless enough, but the Hebrews began to build relationships with the Canaanites.  This involved a certain amount of cultural give-and-take, meaning the Hebrews began to adopt Canaanite ways of talking, dressing, thinking, and living.  Worst of all, they began to adopt Canaanite religion.  At first these compromises were small, almost imperceptible.  But over time they grew, and, after a few generations, there was practically no difference between the people of God and the pagan Canaanites. There is much for the Church to learn from this, for compromise usually leads to more compromise.  The Church, or Christian, who begins to adapt to the pop culture around them, may find that they have become that culture.  God has ordained that an obvious difference exists between His people and the people of the world.  It must be so because the world's values are reflected in its culture, just as our values are reflected in ours.  And the two cultures are at war, for one is based on Godliness while the other is based on ungodliness.  One is Light the other is darkness, and they cannot occupy the same space in peace.  Nor can the Church build a City of Light using the tools of darkness.

The Hebrews in Judges 13 have been compromising with the Canaanites for generations.  But compromise has not resulted in peace between the Hebrews and the Canaanites.  Just the opposite; the Canaanites have fought against Israel, and, in many cases, have subdued the people of God under cruel domination.  Suffering under Gentile rule, the Hebrews sometimes repented of their sin, and God, who is rich in mercy, raised up a deliverer to lead Israel in battle and freedom.  The Hebrews followed God faithfully for a while after their deliverance, but soon began again the sequence of compromise, leading to subjection and domination by the Canaanites.

During one of the periods of sin and domination, the Angel of the Lord appeared to a Hebrew woman and revealed that she would give birth to a son who would be a Nazarite from the moment of conception.  A Nazarite was supposed to be entirely dedicated to God, thus, while carrying the child, even the woman was to keep the strict customs of the Nazarites.  The meaning is obvious; deliverance will come through religious revival led by a man completely devoted to God.  Unfortunately, the people did not live up to the high demands of God.  Instead, the leader was flawed and sinful, and the revival was half-hearted at best.  Yet we see something important here.  We see that true deliverance requires a leader that is stronger, greater, and more righteous than any mere human can possibly be.  All of the judge/redeemers of Israel were tragically flawed, so a real revival, one that will really turn the hearts of people to God and produce the fruits of everlasting righteousness, must be led by someone greater the Samson.  It must be led by God himself.

Tuesday, July 15

Morning - Ps.123, 124, Judges 16:1-14, Lk. 8:26-39
Evening - Ps. 126, 127, 130, Acts 16:6-15

Commentary, Judges 16:1-14

Samson lives a life of total wantonness.  He does not have the habit of Godliness.  He does not seek God, confess sin, or try to fulfill his calling.  He breaks his Nazarite vows and rejects the Covenant of God without remorse and without repentance.  There is no great revival of covenant keeping under his leadership, only continued moral decay.  Consequently, there is no deliverance from the Philistines.  Samson himself attacks them and prevents them from completely overtaking the Hebrews, but even Samson is no great threat to them without an army, and he will not give himself to his calling long enough to rally the Hebrews.  Instead of rallying around him, the Israelites attempt to hand him over to the Philistines in hope that his death will cause the Philistines to go easier on Israel (15:12).  But Samson escapes from the Philistines and, singlehandedly, inflicts a terrible slaughter on them (15:15).

Thus we come to tonight's reading of Samson and Delilah.  The Philistines desperately want to destroy Samson.  He not only killed many of their people (see also 15:8) and destroyed many of their crops (15:4-6), he has destabilised the area.  As long as Samson is alive there is a possibility of a Hebrew revolt and victory.  So they laid plans to destroy his strength and capture him.  Samson walks into their trap willingly.

Wednesday, July 16

Morning - Ps. 125, 138, Judges 16:15-22, Lk. 8:40
Evening - Ps.132, 134, Acts 16:16-24

Commentary, Judges 16:15-22

Samson seems to have trouble identifying the enemy.  He married an enemy; a Philistine woman (14:15) at a time when the Philistines had dominion over Israel (14:4).  And the Philistines threatened to burn her and her family if she did not help them against Samson.

Delilah was no better.  She cooperated with the the Philistines against Samson, and, each time Samson told her something will take his strength away, she tried it on him.  Did he think she would not try cutting his hair?  How could he not know she was an enemy, not a friend?

Samson had another problem, he did not realise the true source of his strength.  It came from God, not hair.  His hair was but a symbol that he belonged to God.  He may not have been very faithful, but he belonged to God and wore the symbol of his calling.  To allow someone to cut his hair was to allow someone to remove the symbol of his calling, which is the same as rejecting that calling.  So, in this passage, Samson takes the final step in a long journey away from God, and when that happens, he looses his strength.

Let us learn from Samson.  Let us learn from his habit of disobedience and his attraction to the ways of sin.  Samson identified with the enemies of God, and he moved toward them and away from God.  Finally, he took the decisive step.  But, as those who follow worldliness learn too late, he found not friendship among the Philistines, but cruel slavery.   

Thursday, July 17

Morning - Ps. 136, Judges 16:23, Lk. 9:1-17
Evening - Ps. 144, Acts 16:25

Commentary, Judges 16:23

In Old Testament times a person could set aside the normal occupations of life to dedicate himself to God.  This was done for a specific period of time on a voluntary basis (Num.6:1-21).  Presumably people took Nazarite vows in order to devote themselves to a time of prayer, fasting, and study, with possibly a time of service to the poor or helping in the Temple.  Samson was somewhat different, for he was born to be a Nazarite, and his time of separation was life from conception to the grave.  His calling was to be dedicated to God and lead Israel to repent of sin and win back her freedom from her Philistine oppressors.  But Samson was an utter failure.  Rebellious from the start, many infractions of his vows and the Law of God are recorded.  Others probably did not make it into the Bible.  Instead of Godliness, we see in Samson a worldly, self-indulgent life-style.  Samson's real god was Samson, and his real purpose in life was to indulge his own desires and comforts.  Self-control was unknown to him.  The idea that he should give up his own comforts and amusements to please God seems to have been completely foreign to his mind.  Thus, instead of a man who forgoes the pleasures of the flesh to find the pleasures of God, Samson was a man who disdained the things of God to bask in the pleasures of the flesh.

In last night's reading we saw Samson take the final step away from God.  In tonight's reading we see the terrible result. Finding that his strength was truly gone, the Philistines bound Samson and took him captive.  It was a festive day for the Philistines when they brought their once powerful enemy into Gaza.  One of the things they did to mock and cause pain to him, was to burn out his eyes.  They made a slave of him, forcing him to grind grain for other prisoners of the Philistines.  At a festival gathering they brought him before the crowd to taunt him, maybe even to kill him.  His strength was returned long enough to enable him to collapse the building in which they were gathered, but his action brought no real victory to the Hebrew people, nor did it deliver Israel from Philistine domination.

The Nazarite vow shows that the practice of setting time aside to seek and grow in God is good and helpful.  We are so pressed with busyness these days we hardly take Sunday mornings for worship and reflection.  We should.  Sundays should be a time to turn aside from the world and be still before the Lord.  They should be a day for worship and meditation upon God and the things of God.  They should be times of quiet stillness rather than incessant sound and motion.  Other days, while not replacing the Lord's Day, may also be spent in meditative stillness with God.  When did you last devote a day to reading Scripture and pondering its meaning and application?  When did you last put aside your own pursuits and pleasures to spend Sunday morning with God's people in Church?  When is the last time you denied yourself some worldly trinket and devoted that money to God's house instead?  I truly fear that many in the Church stand as near the door as possible looking for an opportune time to do as Samson; leave it all behind and throw themselves into the world and its pleasures.  The ancient prayer for the week of the Fourth Sunday after Trinity reminds us to hold to God instead of the world:

"O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.  Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Friday, July 18

Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Ruth 1:1-14, Lk. 9:18-27
Evening - Ps. 145, Acts 17:1-15

Commentary, Ruth 1:1-14

The book of Ruth is beloved for its literary beauty, but few understand its theology.  It begins in the turbulent time of the Judges; the time of people like Deborah and Samson, during which the Hebrews, deep in sin and unbelief, were being attacked by the Canaanite tribes, and starved by famine.  It was a famine in Israel that caused Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel and travel to Moab.

Remember that Israel was called by God to be His people and to love and serve Him in the land He gave unto them. It was sin for Israelites to desert their homes and people to live among the Gentiles, and it was sin for them to marry their sons to Gentile women.  It is the sin of unbelief, of not trusting God to keep His promises, of not trusting Him enough to keep the Covenant and leave the rest to Him.  As in so many things, the names and places have changed, but the story remains the same.

We see here a gradual and intentional move away from the Covenant of God toward the pagan views and lifestyle of the Gentiles.  Elimelech and Naomi may not have rejected God entirely, but they were comfortable being part of an idolatrous people and having idolatry in their home and family.  In spite of their move, Elimelech and his sons died in the famine, leaving the three women to cope alone.

When Naomi hears there is food in Israel she determines to go home.  This is not a return to God, against whom she is very angry (13).  It is simply a move to find food.  Knowing her Moabite sojourn would be a hindrance to some of the Israelites, Naomi conveniently becomes a Hebrew again and tells her daughters in law to leave her.  This is difficult, for there is obviously great love between them.  It is partly due to her love that Naomi tells the wives to return to their own people.  They are young and will be able to find husbands in Moab, but taking financial obligations to support a wife and her mother in law might not be the first choice of a young Moabite man.

So the story of Ruth begins with sin and its complications in the lives of these people.  It also begins with Naomi's decision to return to Israel, but we need to understand this is not a desire to return to God and His Covenant, merely a decision to go where she might find food.

Saturday, July 19
Morning - Ps. 147, Ruth 1:15, Lk. 9:2-45
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Acts 17:16

Commentary

Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one.  She says to those who greet her that she "went out full."  She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and, most likely enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law.  She had family, love, and hope.  Now that is all gone.  She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food.  She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20).  Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20).  Or has He?  It was Elimelch and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen.  It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God.  It was they who married their sons to Moabite women.  It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them.  God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today.  "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want.  Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty.  What else should we expect?  How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?

What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her in grace.  It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God.  It is calling her back to the Covenant.  God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20).  Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you."  It is as though God is saying to her;

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin].  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
                                                                                                   James 4:8-10

Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God.  This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life.  It is a habit of the mind and soul.  It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10.  Make it your habitual way of life.  This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.

Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God.  In it we see the conversion of Ruth.  She has been an idolater.  She has been an alien and a stranger to God.  Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life.  But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God.  She joins the Covenant people. She moves to the Promised Land.  She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.


Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth.  We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world.  We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself.  We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is a call to return to Him and turn away from her sin.  And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace.  All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.

July 6, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, July 7-12

Monday, July 7

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, Judges 5:1-18, Lk. 6:39
Evening - Ps. 84, 85, Neh. 5:1-13, Acts 13:44-14:7

Commentary, Nehemiah 5:1-13

The Covenant of God includes duties to Him and to other people of the Covenant.  We see this easily in the Ten Commandments, for the first four are about our relationship with God and remaining six are about our duties to one another.  People are not called into an individual Covenant with God; we are, and always have been, called into the Community of the Covenant.  It is within this Covenant Community that we are baptized, instructed in the faith, worship God on the Lord's Day, and celebrate the feast of Holy Communion. In fact, every aspect of our lives, as a man or woman of God, is lived within the context of the community of faith.  In the New Testament era this community is called the Church, which refers to both its universal and local manifestations.  In the Old Testament that community was called Israel, or, by the time of Nehemiah, Judah.  One of the problems with the Jews who remained in Shushan, Babylon, or Egypt, is that they were no longer functioning within the Covenant Community.  Even if they formed synagogues and kept the ritual law in these lands, they were still branches severed from the vine. The Jewish community was not to be scattered, nor were its people to be dispersed into groups in distant lands.  They were to be a vital, living part of the community in the land God had given to them.  Likewise, today, Christians are to be vital members of the community of faith.  But, unlike the Jews, we are called to go into all the world.  We are called to infiltrate every nation with the Gospel.  Those who respond in faith are received into the universal community through the local part of that community, the local church.

Received into that community, we now are under obligation to it.  We are to give ourselves to its instruction, leadership, and discipline.  We enter into the spiritual discipline of prayer, Scriptures, fellowship, sacraments, and worship of the Church.  When we fail in this discipline, the Church, through its ministers, has authority to call us back, and to exclude those who will not return.

In the fifth chapter of Nehemiah, the Jews have neglected their Covenant obligations to one another.  Rather than working together as brethren in the Lord, some have been profiteering from the scarce food supply caused by a drought.  They have sold grain at exorbitant prices, taken land and homes away from their brethren in exchange for food, and even enslaved their neighbor's children as payment.  Others stole to feed their families, while still others sold their land for food.  All of this was in direct violation of the Law of God and the Covenant duties of the Jews toward one another. Nehemiah verbally chastises them for treating each other so.  He clearly sees this as a religious issue (rather than a social issue), in which the people are breaking the Covenant with God.

This is a good place to state that the laws of the Covenant Community do not always apply directly to those outside of it.  The land of Israel, for example, was given to the Jews as their heritage, and could not be taken away from its owners except under very limited circumstances, and even then, only for a specified number of years.  But this does not preclude buying and selling and investing in land by Gentiles, nor does the action urged by Nehemiah mean any person is necessarily owed food and support.  Much harm has been done by well meaning people who have tried to apply Covenant Community obligations to people, business and nations that are not part of the Covenant.  Socialism, communism, and government re-distribution of wealth are sad and costly examples of this.

Nehemiah urges the Jews to restore what rightfully belongs to others, and to deal charitably with the poor through voluntary charitable activities.  He shakes dust from his robe with the prayer that God will shake out of the Covenant everyone who does not fulfill his Covenant duties.

Tuesday, July 8

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.89:1-9, Judges 5:19, Lk. 7:1-10
Evening - Ps. 90, Neh. 8:1-12, Acts 14:8-18

Commentary, Nehemiah 8:1-12

Tonight's reading covers an event so significant in the life of the Jewish people it is worthy to be accounted in association with Passover, crossing the Red Sea, receiving the Law at Sinai, and the moral/spiritual revival of Godliness in the time of Josiah the king.  The event is the mass gathering of the Jewish people to hear the reading of the Law of God on one of the feast days called for in the Old Testament called the Feast of the Trumpets (Num. 29:1).  The people have gathered in the street because the Temple cannot hold them, and they have gathered to hear again the words of the grace of God, and the life to which they are called.  To this point, the revival of the Covenant in Jerusalem has been sporadic, and based upon general knowledge and memory, rather than direct contact with the Scriptures.  The people knew they were to offer sacrifices, so they did.  They knew they were to rebuild the Temple, so they did.  They knew they were to dwell in and possess the land, so they rebuilt the wall.  All of these efforts were aimed at returning to God and being people of the Covenant again.  They were good and necessary things, but apart from the Word of Scripture, they lacked unity of purpose and direction.  The people worked from memory, not daily experience with the revelation of God.  All of that changed when Ezra read the Bible to this great and solemn assembly in Jerusalem.  This day is a return to Scripture.

The people had built a pulpit, a tower for this purpose.  It was tall enough for Ezra to be seen by all the people, and all were silent as he ascended the steps. All of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside were there.  People of great age who had built the new Temple stood beside children.  Young families with infants stood beside grand parents..  All were quiet.  All were intent on the proceedings.  All who were old enough to understand realised this was a momentous occasion.

When Ezra opened the scroll, all the people stood, for they had been kneeling in prayerful stance.  Verse 6 says Ezra blessed the Lord.  This is the traditional, liturgical blessing said when the books of the Law, called the Torah, are opened in the Temple or synagogues, as it has been said for thousands of years.  It is sung by the priest and followed by the “amen” of the people, also sung in a manner very much like the amen at the end of a hymn today.  The "amen" is the people's assent and commitment to the prayer. In it they affirm their assent to the meaning of the prayer, and beseech God to grant their request, or receive their thanksgiving and worship.  It is as to say, "Let it be so, O Lord."

The gathering was so large it was impossible for Ezra to be heard by all.  So, at strategic places throughout the area, other priests were stationed.  Watching Ezra, they simultaneously mounted their pulpits, turned to the same passage of Scripture, read the same words, and gave the prepared instruction on the meaning of the text.  So, throughout the city the people heard the Word, prayed, and worshiped as one.  It has been nearly 150 years since the liturgies and readings of the day have been publicly conducted by the Jewish people as a whole in Jerusalem., and it is a moving experience.  It is another step deeper into the Covenant, another step back to God.  And this time, it is the Scripture, not memory, which guides them.

Wednesday, July 9

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, Judges 6:1-35, Lk. 7:11-17
Evening - Ps. 104, Neh. 9:5-15, Acts 14:19

Commentary, Nehemiah 9:5-15

For seven days the people gathered as one in Jerusalem, and each day Ezra and the priests read and expounded the Law of God to them.  It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this. These people were returning to God.  They were returning to the Bible.  For hours each day they heard the Bible read and explained.  Ezra probably started with Genesis and read straight through the five books of Moses, called the Torah, or Law.  The significance of these books is that in them God invites the Jews into His Covenant, promises many great things to them, and tells them what they must do as their part of the "bargain."  Basically, their part is to receive pardon from sin, and be led into a new and better life with God as their God.  God forgives their sins and wraps them in His everlasting love, gives them a land in which to dwell, and shows them how He is to be known and worshiped.  They are the receivers in all parts of this Covenant.  Even their obligations to love God above all else and serve Him in Godly worship are more like blessings than duties.  It is light and life to the soul to know and serve God.  The knowledge of Him is eternal life; His service is perfect freedom.  The Jews were re-learning this during these days in the Scripture, and in learning them, they were re-dedicating themselves to being God's Covenant people.  It has been many generations since something like this has happened in Jerusalem.  Most of the Jews' history is the story of their departure away from the Covenant and returning to idolatry and other sins.  Times like this are rare, and noteworthy, and comparable to the Reformation in their scope and significance.

A very important part of this time is that, as the people heard the Covenant read and explained, they realised how far they and their ancestors had fallen short of it.  More accurately, they realised that they and their ancestors had simply and intentionally rejected the Covenant, and that Covenant breaking was the habitual direction of their individual and corporate life.  Their confession was no blanket statement.  Fully one fourth of the day was filled with hearing Law, and one fourth spent in deep and honest confession (Neh.9:3). This is the kind of confession I wrote about during Lent, and the reader is urged to go to www.lifeinthescriptures.blogspot.com and read again of the nature, meaning, and process of true repentance.  We notice that the first day of the reading of the Law was an occasion of great gladness.  But now the Law has convicted them of their sin, and they are gathered to hear it in sackcloth and ashes, the garb of great sorrow before God.  On the first day they rejoiced and celebrated.  Now they confess sin and fast in their shame. I dare say the Church of our own time could benefit from such time in the Word of God, and that it would do much more good than most of the programs and "revivals" found in many churches.

Nehemiah 9:5-15 begins a sermon, probably written by Ezra and preached by the Levites who aided him in the preceding days.  Having spent the morning hearing the Word read and the afternoon in prayer and fasting, the Levites return to the pulpits with this sermon, which they preach simultaneously at various places to enable all the people to hear. The sermon continues to the end of the chapter and recounts their history from the call of Abraham (Abram) to their present hour.  Verses 5-15 retell the call of Abraham and the Exodus, emphasising the grace of God in choosing Israel and blessing them as His people.

Thursday, July 10

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 94, Judges 7:1-8, Lk. 7:18-35
Evening - Ps. 111, 114, Neh. 9:32, Acts 15:1-12

Commentary, Nehemiah 9:32

Tonight's reading continues the sermon begun in Nehemiah 9:5.  The sermon is basically a short summary of the history of the Jewish people in light of the Covenant of God.  I encourage you to include verses 16-31 in your reading because they shed important light on the conclusion drawn in verse 33, "Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly."   This conclusion is continued in verses 34 and 35 which confess that kings and people, and even the priests of Israel have not kept the Covenant, "neither turned they from their wicked works."  Because of their sin the people are servants in their own land (36).  They are not a free and independent nation, they are part of the Persian Empire and subject to its king.  They are forced to pay taxes to support Persia (37). 

It is not just their ancestors who have sinned, the present generation is just as guilty (37).  They have not kept the Covenant.  The days of hearing the Law read and expounded to them have shown them how far they have strayed from the Covenant.  So they are confessing their sin and turning back to God, turning back to the Covenant He made with them.  Verse 38 is the beginning of a list of Jews who intend to keep the Covenant.  These people have made a covenant to keep the Covenant.

This is a tremendous occasion.  It represents a true desire to be a Jew in heart as well as ethnicity.   The signers of this covenant will not be satisfied with only the outward forms of the faith.  Their hearts and lives are now devoted to God, and they intend to serve Him by keeping the letter and the spirit of the Covenant.

Every Christian has made a covenant to keep the Covenant.  I do not mean we have promised to offer sacrifices and move to Jerusalem.  We have become keepers of the Covenant as it is fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  We have confessed our sins and trusted in Him as our peace offering and atonement sacrifice to God.  We have returned to Him and now dwell in Him and live a new life in Him in which we keep His commandments, and love His people.

Friday, July 11

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 102, Judges 7:16, Lk. 7:36
Evening - Ps. 116, Neh. 13:15-22, Acts 15:31-21

Commentary, Nehemiah 13:15-22

The Jewish people have seen a wonderful revival among them.  They have seen the Holy City go from a decaying ruin to a secure fortress with royal protection.  They have seen the Faith of the people revived, and they have seen the people return to God and to His Covenant.  There has been much confession and repentance of sin, for as they heard the Law read and expounded they became mournfully aware that their ancestors had turned away from God, and their people had rejected the Covenant.  They found that it was not only their ancestors who had sinned against God; they themselves were guilty.  They had forsaken God.  They had rejected the Covenant.

Their repentance was not in word alone.  They matched their words with their deeds, keeping both the letter and the spirit of the Law of God.  They rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.  They offered the sacrifices in faith.  They kept the feasts and the fasts according to the Covenant God had made with their forefathers.  They returned to the Bible and made it their rule and guide in life again.  The revival is almost complete, but not quite.  The first verses of Nehemiah 13 show that some of the priests were allied with the enemies of God and were giving the Levites' portion of the tithes to Tobiah (1-10).  This was remedied by Nehemiah (11-14).

In tonight's reading we see that the Jews still had problems with the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is about much more than going to "church" or refraining from work and worldly amusements.  It is about honouring God, trusting Him to provide for physical needs, and finding joy in Him.

It honours God by devoting a full day to His service.  Everything else is set aside to seek and honour God on the Sabbath.  It recognises Him as God, as Lord, and Master and Owner of all things, especially the lives and property of the Jewish people.

It trusts God by putting their prosperity into His hands.  Instead of spending the day working on their homes and earning a living, they spend the day with God.  This means they are trusting Him to provide for them.  Instead of working the farms and crops, they trust them into the care of God for the Sabbath.  This also means they are seeking God instead of following an endless pursuit of the world's goods.  Working seven days a week would enable them to cultivate more land, raise more crops and flocks, make more money, and become more prosperous.  Devoting the Sabbath to God meant they had to be satisfied with less money, and live a simpler life.  It also showed them that some things are more valuable than more money, and the Sabbath Day was reserved for those things; for God, worship fellowship, and family.

Keeping the Sabbath instead of spending it as "a day off" for personal pursuits and worldly amusements is also an act of faith which finds its joy in God instead of worldly things.  It is not a day to play; it is a day for God.  The joy of the Sabbath was the worship and service of God.  These are lessons the Church of today desperately needs to learn and practice.

Nehemiah could force the Gentiles to stay away from Jerusalem on the Sabbath, but he could not make the Jews honour the Sabbath in their hearts.  That had to come from within them by the grace of God.

Saturday, July 12

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.107:1-16, Judges 10:17, 11:29-40, Lk. 8:1-15
Evening - Nehemiah 13:23-31, Acts 15:22-35

Commentary, Nehemiah 13:23-31

We learn from Nehemiah that faith is much more than external rituals; it is a Covenant life with God that includes an inward disposition of the heart.  The Covenant life is expressed in the Covenant forms.  In the Old Testament those forms consisted of being part of the nation of Israel, worshiping God in the prayers and via the Temple sacrifices, and rituals, and the much deeper sense of love of God above all, and living in peace and active good will with the Covenant people.  In the New Testament the forms are prayer, Scripture, public and private worship, and the other things by which God draws us into Himself.  In both Testaments, the outward forms without the inward disposition are meaningless.  Going forward in a crusade, Confirmation, church attendance, and Holy Communion are not the end of faith, whole hearted Covenant life is.  Whole hearted covenant life is fed and accomplished through the outward forms of prayer, worship, and the other means of grace, so the heart and the forms feed and strengthen each other, and both are essential parts of the Covenant life.

We close our study in Nehemiah with the lesson that we cannot truthfully live the covenant life without honouring God in our home life.  No matter what our station in the home, we are to devote ourselves to it without reservation.  The Jews had not done this.  They had intermarried with people who worshiped other gods and followed other values.  This weakened the Jewish home.  It made an essential part of the Covenant Community a non-covenanting part.  It robbed the Jews of the blessings of a Godly home.  It robbed the children of the blessings of being raised in the Covenant.  It undermined their faith, and led them into the sin of idolatry. In a similar way, marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever robs the Christian of a Christian home, robs the children of the strong foundation a Christian home provides, and robs God of another Covenant family.


The Jews saw this in their own city.  Children of the mixed marriages were a combination of Jew and pagan.  They had pagan ways and values that opposed and negated those of the community of faith.  Through them, the pagan ways were infiltrating the Covenant Community.  They were a major impediment to the return to the Covenant.  They even threatened to lead the Jews back into compromise and idolatry as Solomon's wives had done.  Their presence in Jerusalem shows that compromise was already happening.