The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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August 13

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

Reading 1 - 1Ki 8:6-8

"The priests then brought the ark of the LORD's covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends could be seen from the Holy Place in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today" (1Ki 8:6-8).

These staves, or carrying poles, were so long that the ends could be seen if one were to look into the Holy Place (in other words, the staves extended outside the Most Holy Place). The statement about the staves shows that Exo 25:15 was complied with, that is, that the staves were not to be removed from the ark.

Even though the ark was now in its permanent home, the staves remained in place, a reminder of its journeys at the head of God's people. Though all the other furnishings of the Temple had been newly made, the ark, representing the ruling presence of God, was still the same as that made while Israel was encamped at Sinai. It provided an unbreakable link with all that had gone before.

It is good to have reminders of who we are and where we have come from. In our ecclesias, this role is often filled by the older ones, and by the history and stories which they can tell, of earlier generations. In the broader sense, the Bible fills this same role for all of us: its pages demonstrate how our faith, as individuals and as a community, is linked with the faith of others who have gone before. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..." (Heb 12:1).

Reading 2 - Jer 34:18-20

"The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces. The leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the court officials, the priests and all the people of the land who walked between the pieces of the calf, I will hand over to their enemies who seek their lives. Their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth" (Jer 34:18-20).

This form of covenant is background for, and helps to explain, the events of Gen 15 -- when the Almighty made His covenant of promise with Abram.

The terms of the covenant specify that all parties to the covenant must pass between the separated pieces of the sacrificed calf. Evidently, such a practice was common in the Middle East -- evidence of such a practice has been found among other peoples of the area, and not just Jews. Two individuals, or two groups, would decide to make a solemn covenant, or contract, with one another; it might be a purely secular matter, having to do with property rights or business arrangements. To confirm the agreement, they would sacrifice an animal, cut the animal in pieces, separate the pieces, and then pass between the parts, or meet in their midst. They would also participate in a common meal of fellowship, each partaking of the animal which they had sacrificed and separated. Thereby they would confirm, by a gesture of great solemnity, their mutual understanding of the terms of their agreement.

They were saying something else as well, something very profound and sobering: if anyone violated the terms of that covenant, then he was deserving of the same fate that had befallen the covenant-victim; he was deserving of death. In fact, he would have already eaten his own condemnation, in the meal itself!

Quite possibly, this is the basis, too, for the oft-repeated and rather enigmatic vow: "The LORD -- or God -- do so to me, and more also, if...": Rth 1:17; 1Sa 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2Sa 19:13; 1Ki 2:23; 2Ki 6:31; etc. May God do WHAT, exactly? The same thing that was done to the covenant-victim!

Likewise, it explains the Hebraism, where "to make a covenant" -- as we might put it -- is, literally, "to CUT a covenant"!

Also, it may account for the rather gruesome procedure adopted by the Levite, when he cut up his dead concubine into twelve pieces and sent the pieces around to the various tribes (Jdg 19:29)... as well as what Saul did, similarly, with two oxen (1Sa 11:7), and what Samuel did with Agag (1Sa 15:33)... and the words of Jesus in Mat 24:51, where the fate of the unfaithful servant was to be "cut in pieces" or "cut asunder"! Notice also how Isaac and Abimelech (Gen 26:28-31), and Jacob and Laban (Gen 31:44-54) confirm their agreements by a "sacrifice" and a meal.

Reading 3 - Mar 8:19

"[Jesus asked], 'When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?' 'Twelve,' they replied" (Mar 8:19).

The twelve full baskets represent the 12 apostles, full of the "bread" of life. In ministering to others, they lost nothing themselves. In the atonement of Christ, there is ample provision for all.

The broken pieces of bread represent the "least" of the heavenly blessings brought by Jesus, which the Canaanite woman, like a "dog" under the Jewish "table", was only too willing to eat (Mat 15:27; Mar 7:28).
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