The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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August 1

Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.

Reading 1 - 2Sa 18:29

"The king asked, 'Is the young man Absalom safe?' " (2Sa 18:29).

This question has often been asked by loving fathers about their sons. And sometimes the answer must be, "No, he is in great danger." The young man is not "safe", firstly, if he is at enmity with his father -- for, if a man love not his own parents on earth, how can he love his Father who is in heaven?

And, again, the answer may be, "We have seen him lately in bad company. He has associated with other young men who are of loose morals. No, the young man is not safe there."

Neither is he "safe" if he has taken to indulging in expensive habits. "Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him" (2Sa 15:1). This extravagance was a sign of evil. A youth who lavishes money upon needless luxuries is not safe.

And once again, the young man is not safe if he is especially concerned about his personal appearance. "In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him" (2Sa 14:25). When young people are taken up with their own persons, and are vain about their hair, their looks, and their clothes, then may we be sure that they are not safe, for the proud are always in danger.

Reading 2 - Jer 22:6-8

"For this is what the LORD says about the palace of the king of Judah: 'Though you are like Gilead to me, like the summit of Lebanon, I will surely make you like a desert, like towns not inhabited. I will send destroyers against you, each man with his weapons, and they will cut up your fine cedar beams and throw them into the fire. People from many nations will pass by this city and will ask one another, 'Why has the LORD done such a thing to this great city?' " (Jer 22:6-8).

Is not the sight of a city in ruins always a source of pathetic interest? As we wander about the silent streets of Pompeii the stillness of death is appalling by contrast with the tumult of pleasure and commerce which formerly filled those once busy markets and squares. Such a melancholy spectacle provokes thought and inquiry. It was while seated among the ruins of the Capitol in Rome that Gibbon first thought of writing the history of the decline and fall of Roman Empire. The magnificent ruins of Carnac and of Persepolis naturally lead us to ask how prosperity and power came to pass away from Persia and Egypt. The unparalleled devastation of Hiroshima, magnificent itself in an awful way, give us pause to reflect on the fragility of life, and of civilization itself, in this post-atomic age.

So must it have been in ancient times with the ruins of Jerusalem. Jeremiah warns the citizens that their city, now brilliant in splendor and prosperity, will soon astonish all beholders with its overthrow.

"I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said -- 'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away' " (Percy Shelley).

Reading 3 - Rom 9:17

"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth' " (Rom 9:17).

"The most careful attention should here be directed to what is not said by Paul in this appeal to Exo 9:16. God did not say to Pharaoh that he had raised him up in order to destroy him, or to drown his army in the Red Sea, but that God had raised him up for the purpose of showing His power in Pharaoh and of having God's name published throughout the earth. Just HOW God's purpose would be fulfilled in Pharaoh, at the time God spoke, still remained within the circumference of Pharaoh's free will to choose; whether by his own submission to God's commands or by his rebellion against them, would be realized God's purpose. If Pharaoh had submitted to God's will, God's name would have been magnified all over the world and His power would have been demonstrated in Pharaoh just as gloriously in that manner as it was in the manner of its actual occurrence. Pharaoh had the free choice of obeying or not obeying God; but God had purposed, either way, to use him as a demonstration of God's power and a means of publishing the divine name all over the world; but the choice of HOW this would come about remained with Pharaoh until he was HARDENED.

"What happened to the king of Nineveh, following the preaching of Jonah, should be remembered in the connection here. Both Pharaoh and the ruler of Nineveh heard the word of God, the one by Moses, the other by Jonah. Nineveh received mercy; Egypt did not. God had a perfect right to spare one and punish the other; but it is a falsehood to allege that God's doing so was capricious and unrelated to what was in the two monarchs or to their [respective] responses to God's word" (James B. Coffman).

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