Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - Jdg 9:7-21
"Jotham's parable of the trees of the forest, quite without
parallel in Scripture, is full of interest (Jdg 9:7-21).
"When the trees decided that they must choose themselves a
king, first the olive and then the fig-tree and then the vine declined the
honour emphatically on the grounds that they had more profitable work to do than
merely spend time lording it over their fellows, which egotistic activity was --
so they all implied -- a particularly futile way of life; they had much more
important things to do, fulfilling their responsibilities both to God (in His
sacrifices and drink-offerings), and also to man.
"So in desperation the rulership was offered to the bramble, a
trailing spiny plant of the wall of thicket, having neither fruit nor shade nor
timber; it could only be a nuisance to its fellows and to men. The bramble,
aspiring after the honour and wishing to make its position secure against those
who doubted its qualifications, reinforced its persuasions by threat and
bombast. By all means 'Put your trust in my shadow (the shadow of the bramble,
forsooth!); and if not let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars
"Jotham then proceeded to expound at least in part his own
parable. The olive, fig and vine represented Gideon and his sons who had served
the community faithfully and despised the transient rewards of royal status at
the expense of the rest. Whereupon these men of Shechem had chosen one who could
be likened only to a bramble, destitute of fruit, shade, and timber, and having
only nuisance value, especially in starting a forest fire. Jotham went on: 'Did
you men of Shechem show good faith with Gideon? Then what prospect is there of
realisation of Abimelech's hopes that you will be true to him? Let me wish you
joy of your new monarch!'
"With that, he uttered his solemn curse on them all: 'Let fire
come out from Abimelech, and devour the men of Shechem, and the house of Millo;
and let fire come out from the men of Shechem, and from the house of Millo, and
devour Abimelech' " (Harry Whittaker, "Judges and Ruth").
Reading 2 - Isa 35:6
"Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue
shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the
desert" (Isa 35:6).
"The picture of God-given blessing in the Land (v 1) is now
continued. Waters, streams, pools, springs are everywhere in abundance (Isa
43:19,20; 48:21; 49:10). It must have been a remarkable year of frequent and
copious rainfall, so that with little effort on men's part there was abundant
fruitfulness (Lev 25:11). For the freed captives (Lev 25:10), streaming back
from Babylon [having been released by Sennacherib after his terrible defeat:
GB], the hardships of the way were made easy by the ready availability of food
and water. As Israel in the wilderness had the smitten rock to save them from
the horrors of thirst, so now this later generation saw 'waters break out... in
the desert' -- the verb means 'cleave [the rock or the ground]' " (Harry
Whittaker, "Isaiah" 342).
Reading 3 - 1Pe 1:13-16
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope
to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of
Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the
former lusts in your ignorance; but as he which hath called you is holy, so be
ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I
am holy" (1Pe 1:13-16).
Peter is quoting a series of passages, from Leviticus (Lev
11:44,45; 19:2; 20:7,26; 21:8). After the verses cited above Peter reminds the
believers that they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ out of their
former "useless way of life" (1Pe 1:18,19), so as to be a holy nation, a
purchased people, kings and priests who have been delivered out of darkness into
light (1Pe 2:9,10).
The basic ideas of both the Old and New Testament words for
"holy" (Heb "kadesh" and Gr "hagios") are quite similar: they signify "set
apart, pure, sanctified". This process of being called out to form a distinct
community or congregation is the means by which the ecclesia is
Under Christ's law, the ecclesia is to be a congregation of
"called out" and "set-apart" ones. They are to be a "city set on a hill", an
"island" of light in a sea of darkness (Mat 5:14-16), harmless and blameless in
the midst of a crooked and perverse people (Phi 2:14,15). Their "holiness" is to
be not merely one established by physical barriers between themselves and that
which is unholy (such as was the essence of the Law of Moses), but it is to be a
spiritual separation and preparation of mind, attitude and conduct.
1Pe 1:16 is an echo of Mat 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
The word "perfect" (again, both in Hebrew and Greek) means "to
be complete or finished", as a "perfect heart" -- one that is whole and
undivided in its loyalties, and complete in its integrity. A consideration of
holiness, therefore, leads us naturally to Christ's Sermon on the Mount: the
living heart of the Truth. "If ye love me," said the Master, "keep my
commandments." And here they are: prayer, self-denial, loving one's enemies,
"Be ye therefore perfect." Does Christ really expect us to be
"perfect"? What he does require is that we exert every effort in that direction.
He requires no more than the very best we can do, but he expects no less. His
words leave us absolutely no excuse for relaxing our efforts at any point short
of perfection, or complete holiness. The great example is God Himself, awesome
as that example may be:
"Be ye holy, for I am holy."
"Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is
Holiness is both a state of mind and a series of acts. It
cannot be one without the other. Growing complacent in our reliance on the mercy
of God, we may come to accept "holiness" as nothing but a state of mind -- a
vague "feeling" of "righteousness" -- without being over-concerned with "deeds",
because after all Christ can forgive and has forgiven us!
It is true that Christ can and will forgive, and that
salvation is by grace. But our works -- our acts of "holiness" -- are the only
means of putting ourselves in the position -- and keeping ourselves in the
position -- where we may hope for forgiveness when we fail. The crucial truth is
that God will not forgive our shortcomings unless we are seriously committed to
Him and to holding firm to the hope He has given us -- and this requires effort
on our part. Only then are we sure of being in the "place" where, by grace, our
sins may be forgiven.