The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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November 23

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

Reading 1 - Neh 11:1,2

"Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem" (Neh 11:1,2).

When the exiles returned to the Promised Land, living in Jerusalem was not an attractive prospect because the city lay in ruins. However, with the rebuilding of the temple and the walls, the capital became a more desirable place to live. Nehemiah as governor saw the wisdom of populating Jerusalem with pure-blooded Jews, and set about to encourage the people to live within the city walls. Some citizens of Jerusalem were chosen by lot (v 1), while others volunteered to move there (v 2).

After the resettlement, the population of the city itself would have been between 5,000 and 10,000.

Reading 2 - Amos 3:3

"Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" (Amos 3:3).

The verse is used to suggest the notion that only when there is perfect agreement among brethren can they "walk together" in the bonds of fellowship. In the first place such a blanket assertion is not true, and in the second place such a usage of the verse is entirely beside the point.

It is certainly wrong to state as a matter of fact or principle that two men cannot cooperate unless they are perfectly agreed in every particular. In actual practice, nothing is further from the truth. Two men or a group can work together quite well on a common project by agreeing beforehand to submerge their differences in matters of secondary importance. If in their minds there is the same major goal, then minor considerations are modestly set aside so that their full energies may be directed toward its achievement. Such a policy is wise, and Scriptural! Peter's "Be ye subject one to another" (1Pe 5:5) surely expresses such a spirit of "compromise" in the best sense, as does Paul's exhortation to the strife-prone Corinthians: "There should be no schism in the body... the members should have the same care one for another" (1Co 12:25).

What then is the point of Amos 3:3? Perhaps the RSV rendering here would be helpful: "Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment?" Or, as the Hebrew: 'unless they have met together?' This sounds very much like the thoughts expressed above: Two men can and do walk together IF they have agreed beforehand to walk together; it is as simple as that.

However, a consideration of the prophet's message in the broader sense indicates that the two who must agree in order to walk together are God and man. God knew Israel in the sense that to Israel He had committed His laws (v 2; Psa 147:19,20). This knowledge placed upon Israel the burden of responsibility to obey God, to agree to walk with Him; else Israel would be punished above all the nations for her transgressions. But, responsibilities aside, there are also great privileges in such a close association with the Almighty: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

Man must walk in communion and harmony of heart and purpose with God. In doing so his blessings will be many, but if he deserts such a partnership then he may expect fiery judgment. God is saying, 'Can you think to ignore My advice and still claim to be My friend?'

The very first thing God asks us to agree with Him about is that we are sinners, not that we are as perfect as He is. An awareness of our weaknesses before God should make us considerably more sympathetic toward the weaknesses of our brethren. The goal of all is that we learn day by day to walk more and more in conformity with God's will. In the awesome shadow cast by our Father, we are all no better than toddlers, and our petty quarrels with His other babes are just so much futility, and are due to our limited horizons. The Lord of all creation has condescended to grasp each of us by the hand; like a natural father, He has shortened His pace so that we may be helped and guided in our first faltering steps upward toward manhood. Let us set our attentions upon His standard and strive to conform to it; let us walk with God (Gen 5:22; 6:9; 17:1), and not be so concerned to scrutinize the faltering steps of our brothers.

One final thought: Today divorce has become a widespread practice in the world around us, so much so that many young people enter marriages fully intending to terminate them at the first sign of trouble, on such flimsy grounds as "incompatibility". It is as if they are saying, 'We can no longer walk together, because we do not agree on such-and-such.' There are few in the brotherhood who would not deplore such a childish disregard for the marriage bond. And yet how often do brethren put forward this same excuse for "divorcing" themselves from a bond just as sacred -- the tie that binds (or should bind) all Christ's brethren together! They thus put asunder in the spiritual realm what they would never think of dissolving on the domestic level; and this means a debris of broken homes and lingering recriminations. And all because they will not apply the same restraint and reasonableness and patience and understanding in the ecclesial family that every husband and wife knows is essential in the natural family.

Reading 3 - 1Ti 6:7

"For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it" (1Ti 6:7).

"The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Compare the parable of Luke 12:20,21. Compare also Psa 49:17 and Ecc 5:15 ("As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand." This picture runs throughout the book of the Preacher. The grave is the ash heap of mankind -- in it there is no hope.)

Paul's line of reasoning is obvious. If we could, at death, take our possessions with us into a future state, then there would be at once an end to the "contentment" (v 6) with whatever position we occupy now. This is because the possessions of the future would then in some way be dependent upon this present existence, and what we might eke out of the earth by the sweat of our brow.

Ignorant and superstitious men have believed this fallacy from primitive times. Nearly all ancient cultures bury their dead with the best provisions possible for their trip into the unknown. But those who know the Truth realize man's state in all its stark reality -- of poverty and blindness and weakness. What God gives him now is only a provision for his journey through this life, to be dispensed with (just like a used bus ticket) when the "destination" of death is reached. We are even more helpless at death than we were when we came into the world. Without the hope of resurrection to life man is no better than the animals. Thank God we have hope!

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