Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - Jos 1:6
"Be strong and courageous" (Jos 1:6).
"Two incidents happened recently that seemed irrelevant. Both
combined, however, to impress a command. A young father called for some reason,
bringing his two small children for a ride. The boy, sweet toddler, was into
everything -- poker, tongs and cupboards. Finally, he climbed on to a
window-seat, fingered my Bible, leaving it open, got down, and raised a protest
about having to go home.
"Next day we found a robin in the garden, half stunned,
balancing on quivering legs. One side of its head was terribly injured and
blinded, though the other bright eye regarded me with no fear. The bird ...
allowed itself to be picked up, put in a basket, and brought indoors.
"What could be done? If healed in part and later released it
would become prey to cat or hawk. But it must now be tended. In a few hours it
pecked at food, flew to the window, and even managed to chirrup. What
unconscious courage shone from the one bright eye as it clung to my finger! I
dared not look at the other side. But the Father who knows when a sparrow falls
would hear a prayer for a robin. I asked God just to bless it -- and He did. The
brave little bird lay next morning with stiff legs pointing to the ceiling.
"I tidied the room. The Bible lay open as the toddler had left
it, and there shone forth the words from Jos 1: 'Be strong, and of a good
"If a tiny bird, unconscious of its Creator, could show
courage worthy of a human hero, then the courage that our Heavenly Father
commands His children, who profess faith in Him, should be the source of their
greatest consolation of trust. 'Be strong, and of a good courage... Have not I
commanded thee?' Surely in the smallness of our own puny affairs we must obey
"O Lord, help us to hold fast to this Thy command -- 'until
the day break, and the shadows flee away' " (Catherine Morgan, "Think on These
[This story reminds me of the lines from a poem by DH
Lawrence, entitled "Self-Pity":
"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself."]
Reading 2 - Isa 7:14
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin
will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel"
Other Old Testament prophecies of the "virgin birth" are to be
found in Isa 41:9; 43:1; 44:2,24; 45:4; 46:3; 49:1; Psa 22:9,10; 71:6; 89:26,27;
110:1,3; 132:11; Gen 3:15; Mic 5:2; 2 Sam 7:14; Gen 49:25; Jer 31:22; Pro 30:4.
The first express prophecy in the Old Testament is Gen 3:15,
the seed of the woman (but not the man) who would destroy the power of sin
symbolized by the serpent. And the first express fulfillment of prophecy in the
New Testament is Mat 1:23. How was this prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled? Over
the centuries this has become a Jewish controversy, and even a Christian
controversy, as witnessed by some modern versions that translate the Hebrew
"alma" or the Greek "parthenos" by "young woman" or the like, instead of
"virgin". Of one thing there can be no doubt: no matter what the best
translation of the original words, both Matthew and Luke agree that Mary had had
no relations with any man when Jesus was conceived. God has clearly shown how
Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled despite whatever minor arguments may revolve
around the precise words used.
The Hebrew "alma" and its related words are derived from a
root signifying to cover or conceal. One common suggestion is that it refers to
the practice of keeping unmarried girls in seclusion in their parents' homes.
This explanation would favor virginity as the meaning of "alma", but would not
prove it absolutely. However, a more meaningful aspect comes into view when the
antonym is considered; it means "to uncover". "To uncover the nakedness" (so
translated, literally, by the KJV) of another is a Hebrew euphemism for having
sexual intercourse (Lev 20:11,17-21). So one who is "covered" -- an "alma" -- is
then specifically one who has not engaged in sexual intercourse.
Reading 3 - 1Th 1:9
"They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the
living and true God" (1Th 1:9).
Some of the Gentile converts in Thessalonica were "devout
Greeks" (Acts 17:4), who had presumably already abandoned the idols of their
fathers so as to worship, if only in a secondary way, the God of Israel. But
many others must have had little or no connection with the synagogue, since only
at the call of the gospel did they turn from their idols. That 1 Thessalonians
is written to a predominantly Gentile group is suggested by:
No direct references to the Law of Moses;
A scarcity of direct
references to other parts of the Old Testament;
This v 9, regarding "turning
from idols"; and
The serious call to sexual purity which is reminiscent of
the Jerusalem decree sent to Gentile believers (Acts 15:19,20,28,29), and which
in any case should have been unnecessary for those brought up under the
Paul's description of the Thessalonians' conversion echoes his
preaching in Lystra ("ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God" --
Acts 14:15-17), and Athens ("I perceive that in all things [their many idols] ye
are too superstitious... the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now
commands all men everywhere to repent" -- Acts 17:22,30).
In Greek "idol" literally means a "shadow" or a "phantom." By
Paul's preaching the "idols" were discredited as mere imaginations of enfeebled,
philosophical minds. They were, in Paul's robust and blunt words, "nothing" --
or more literally, "no-gods" (1Co 8:4-6). They simply did not exist. The images
of wood and stone had unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, and mouths out of which
no speech would ever come (Psa 115:4-7). Some of the most exquisite irony and
sarcasm in the Old Testament is reserved for the "no-gods" and those who trust
in them (1Ki 18:27; Isa 44:9-20).