The Agora
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November 14

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

Reading 1 - Ezr 10:1

"While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites -- men, women and children -- gathered around him. They too wept bitterly" (Ezra 10:1).

"Human life is a river which flows evenly along from day to day; but it is a river like the Zambesi or the Congo, not without its rapids and its falls. Usually it flows silently, but sometimes it dashes along with impetuosity and uproar. So is it with our Christian life, with our religious course. There are things exceptional as well as things ordinary and regular, for which room must be made by ourselves and allowance by other people. There may be, as here at this juncture in the life of Ezra and the returned Jews, a time of exceptional exhibition of feeling. Ezra 'wept', ie, made lamentation, audible and visible, in presence of all the people, and instead of standing or kneeling he cast himself down, and lay prostrate in the temple court, in order to impress on the multitude the strength of his feeling, and the critical character of the present emergency. And his example proved contagious, for all the people 'wept very sore', and there was a great and general outpouring of emotion. Ordinarily our feelings are wisely kept under control. In this country we are, indeed, apt to press this a few points too far, and let self-control pass into a chill or cold reserve. But self-control gives force and dignity to character, and almost anything is better than habitually giving way to tempestuous feeling. Men that are constantly violent in their expression of feeling are disregarded if not despised; they lose all influence over others; they expend themselves in trifles, and have nothing in reserve for large occasions. But there are times when feeling may be freely poured forth; when, as in Ezra's case, there is urgent reason for exciting others to feel as we do; or when, as in the case of the people, there is general fervour in which it would be unsympathising or unpatriotic not to share. It is a very noble sight when a whole people mourns with an honourable repentance, or arises in holy indignation, or braces itself up to a generous struggle, or rejoices with a pure and holy joy. Then let feeling swell to its highest tide; let it pour itself forth as 'the mighty waves of the sea' " (Pulpit Commentary).

Reading 2 - Hos 11:1

The flight of Joseph's family into Egypt, and their return after the death of the king, are shown by Matthew to be a fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy: "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Mat 2:15; quoting from Hos 11:1).

God's Son in the Old Testament was a national, plural "son" (Exo 4:22,23), but in the New Testament the prophecy is given a definitely singular emphasis. The reason is not difficult to grasp. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel" (Rom 2:28; 9:6), and only those with the faith of Abraham are fit to be called his "children" (Rom 4:11-13; Gal 3:8,9; Mat 3:8,9; John 8:33,39). According to the apostle Paul, Jesus was the singular seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16); he proved his claim to that family inheritance by perfectly obeying the will of God. In doing so he became the "hope of Israel", the singular and only-begotten Son, through whom others might become "sons", associated with the promises to the fathers of Israel. Like Moses before him, but in a fuller and richer sense, Jesus will bring "Israel" out of "Egypt" (symbolic of sin and death, Rev 11:8) by the blood, not of a passover lamb, but of himself, the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and the true passover (1Co 5:7; Heb 13:20).

The exodus from Egypt is a parable, then, of our redemption in Christ, and a foreshadowing of Christ's role as the true passover for the true Israel. How appropriate then that in the life of him who is the "Israel" -- the "prince with God" (cp Isa 49:3) -- there should be a physical coming out of Egypt as a preview of the greater salvation which is the keynote of our Lord's mission!

The allegory is even more firmly grounded in Scripture. The first acts of Christ after reaching maturity, as a prelude to entering upon his life's work, also follow the "Egypt-pass-over" pattern. His baptism echoes the "baptism" of God's national son in the Red Sea (1Co 10:1,2). His 40-day wilderness temptation likewise finishes the 40-year wilderness trial of the children of Israel. Where the nation in the wilderness grumbled and failed, the Son in the wilderness brings Scripture to bear upon his temptations, resists them in faith, and succeeds!

The theme of Hosea

"Out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos 11:1; quoted in Mat 2:15).

Matthew does not quote Hosea as an isolated phrase that "sounds good". It should never be supposed that Bible quotations are mere verbal "echoes" without substance. There are definite themes throughout the book of Hosea which find confirmation and fulfillment in the life of Christ, of which Hos 11:1 is but one example.

Two consistent threads run through the whole of Hosea's prophecy:

In God's eyes Israel is an unfaithful wife as well as a wayward, rebellious child. Israel the unfaithful wife never quite puts away her adulteries, yet Yahweh, her Husband and Lord, is patient and full of mercy. Israel the wayward child never quite "grows up", yet Yahweh gently takes him by the hand and with "ties of love" leads him out of danger (Hos 11:3,4). Though Israel backslides and falls away again and again, still the Father will not forget His "son": "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?" (v 8).

In counterpoint to God's abiding love there is Israel's stubborn rebellion and rejection. Israel rejects God, rejects God's Son, and finally is rejected by God, whose longsuffering can be stretched no further. This reciprocal rejection is the constant theme of the last sections of Hosea's prophecy, and is especially evident in the verses preceding Hos 11:1:

Hosea sees the cutting off of Israel's king as the nation's final break with its God. Israel will now suffer at God's hands and be rejected -- for a long age at least -- while God's love is transferred to a new Son, Jesus the spiritual "Israel". Through him a new nation, a new "Israel", will be created.

"Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them" (Hos 14 9).

Matthew and the rejection of the king

Against this backdrop of Hosea, then, Matthew, and his reference to Hos 11:1, may be seen in perspective. Matthew's is the Gospel that particularly portrays Jesus as the king of Israel: he is born to be a king, announced by a heavenly sign, worshiped by Gentile "kings" who lay their treasures at his feet. He preaches the coming of the Kingdom in his own person, and its final establishment in his return in royal power and authority, as portrayed in many parables: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto..."

As with Hosea, however, there is a darker side to the picture of God's love shown toward and through His Son. There is the familiar two-fold rejection: Israel's rejection of God's King, and God's consequent rejection of Israel. Even in the beginning, Christ is hunted by the murderous Herod, "King of the Jews", who will allow no one to rule over him, and thus the family must flee to Egypt (Mat 2:13-15; Hos 11:1). As Matthew's Gospel unfolds, the kingly parables give way to more forbidding ones -- like those of the vineyard, and the sheep and the goats -- which speak of rejection and judgment. Israel's destiny is sealed when, in a fateful morning, they utterly cut off their king. "We will not have this man to reign over us," they say, but at the end they will find themselves rejected with "weeping and gnashing of teeth".

In view of the foregoing, Hos 11:1 may be seen not as an isolated verbal link, but as part of a continuous theme found both in the prophet and the Gospel.

Reading 3 - Col 2:19

"...The Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow" (Col 2:19).

"The ecclesia is the body of Christ, who is its Head. All the members look to him for guidance, all actively accept his call for service to him and to all the rest of his body. Harmony between the members in their work and life in the Faith is obtained only secondarily by considering working arrangements with one another. Primarily it is secured by looking to and listening to the Head, obedience to whose counsels brings peace to all ecclesias of saints. Jesus and the spirit of Jesus were all that mattered to the first century brethren. The rest followed naturally. The apostles did not preach themselves or their arrangements; they preached Christ Jesus the Lord. Their knowledge was only of Jesus Christ and of him crucified, their glorying not in the ecclesial organization they were building up, but in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. All things but him were loss. The Truth was not primarily a set of doctrines; the Truth was Jesus. The Life was not essentially a series of injunctions and prohibitions, the Life was Jesus. They were all brethren of Jesus, believers in Jesus, called out (ecclesia) and set apart (saints) by and for Jesus" (JB Norris, "First Century Ecclesia" 164,165).

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