Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - Neh 10
After Ezra's prayer on behalf of the nation, in Neh 9, the
people were prepared to seal the covenant with Yahweh, and to dedicate
themselves to His service. Four groups sealed the covenants, presumably as
representatives of the whole of the nation:
The governor: v 1;
the priests (the heads of 21 priestly families): vv
the Levites (17 mentioned): vv 9-13; and
the chief of the people
(44 heads of other leading families): vv 14-27.
The phrases "house of our God" and "house of Yahweh" occur
nine times in this chapter, emphasizing the importance of the work.
Why is Ezra not mentioned as sealing the covenant? Probably
because he was officiating at the ceremony -- in the place of the High Priest
and as the representative of God Himself.
Why is Eliashib the High Priest not mentioned? Probably
because he had turned away from Nehemiah's party. Were Eliashib and his
followers responsible for the apostasy of Neh 13? See Neh 3:1.
Reading 2 - Amos, "for 3 sins and 4"
"For Three Sins, and for Four": The most distinctive feature
of Amos' prophecy is the eight-fold repetition of: "This is what the LORD says:
'For three sins of ______, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.' "
("Three... and four" does not necessarily mean "seven"! In Hebrew, a three-fold
repetition suggests finality: ie "I will overturn, overturn, overturn..." in Eze
21:27. So "three sins" would be the fulness of transgression, and "four sins"
would be a wretched excess -- implying the God had waited far too long to
exercise His wrath!) This formula introduces divine statements of judgment about
Israel (the northern kingdom) in Amos 2:6-8, and Judah (the southern kingdom) in
Amos 2:4,5, as well as six Gentile nations surrounding God's people:
Damascus, or Syria (Amos 1:3-5);
Gaza, or Philistia (Amos
Tyre, in Lebanon (Amos 1:9,10);
Edom (Amos 1:11,12);
(Amos 1:13-15); and
Moab (Amos 2:1-3).
Why these nations? Because, during the general period of
Israel's (and Judah's) expansion and prosperity, the Jews had allowed themselves
to become very much like the idolatrous, immoral nations around them (Amos
3:14-4:2; 6:1-6; 8:11-13). And so the time of God's judgments upon the Gentile
nations would also see severe chastening of Israel and Judah. But there would be
this difference: God's people, or rather a remnant of God's people, would
survive the severe judgments and emerge stronger, their faith having been tested
so that they learn once again to trust in the LORD their God (Amos 3:1,2;
Reading 3 - 1Ti 5:25
"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of
your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1Ti 5:23).
This verse seems out of context; in other words, vv
21,22,24,25 could be read entirely reasonably WITHOUT v 23. What is the point?
Perhaps: as Paul writes these verses encouraging Timothy to "keep himself pure"
(v 22), he realizes that Timothy may be too much given to asceticism, and so
Paul reminds Timothy that -- given his constitution -- a little wine could be a
healthful thing! Timothy may have been of a weak constitution, as Paul had
seemed himself to be, and he would then need the strengthening effects of a
little wine. (This verse is a corrective against the suggestion that "wine" in
Scripture means unfermented grape juice and nothing more. If so, then what
strengthening effect could be derived?)
In his autobiography Robert Roberts recounts a similar
miscalculation: while a young man he embarked with the best of intentions upon a
strict (but unbalanced) vegetarian diet (more precisely, as I recall, a
rice-only diet!), only to come dangerously close to ruining his health.
Paul is saying here, "Not that I enjoin upon you that extreme
and foolish 'purity' which is asceticism. You may even go so far as to use a
little wine, as it might be needed for your health." God commands believers to
use all Scriptural means which may be at their disposal for preserving health to
keep their "temples" sound.
But it is good never to forget the other side of the coin. "Be
not drunken with wine" (1Ti 3:3; Eph 5:18). Our thoughts must not be clouded by
the effects of alcohol or any other strong depressant or stimulant.
The sentiment here expressed is inconsistent with the opinion
of some fanatical advocates of total abstinence, that drinking wine is
altogether incompatible with true Christianity. Pharisaic 'purity' in such cases
does not guarantee true godliness. On the contrary, it can lead to mechanical,
rote worship, in following the do's and don'ts of "the Law". Even so, common
sense (scriptural sense) should guide us in matters such as this. Paul
recommends this to Timothy for purely medicinal purposes, not as a means of
escape or a way to warm the 'cockles of his heart'.
In addition, we must consider the weaker members because our
liberty should not be an occasion of stumbling to someone else. "If meat makes
my brother to offend, I will not eat meat so long as the world stands." We would
not want our liberty to be an occasion of stumbling to someone outside the faith
either. An elder will give no occasion for the Truth or its adherents to be evil
spoken of. Ascetic ideas regarding alcohol seem to play a more professed role
today than in the past (wine was frequently taken with meals in Jesus' day).
Therefore this word of caution.
And it should be noted that there are brothers and sisters who
are recovering alcoholics -- for whom even a "little wine" could be the last
push over the edge into the abyss. Clearly such advice as Paul dispenses here is
not for them!
Finally... the very unpretentious quality of this tidbit of
personal advice is an argument for the genuineness of this letter. Would an
imposter have thought to include such mundane but practical details? This verse
could have come from no pen but Paul's.