The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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November 27

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

Reading 1 - Est 2:7-9

"Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. When the king's order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor" (Est 2:7-9).

"Esther had a special beauty that far exceeded all the other young girls in King Xerxes' beauty contest. Esther was lovely in form and features, as, no doubt, were many of the other girls. But I believe that the difference between Esther and the rest was found in her nature. She seems to have won the favour of Hegai as soon as she met him, and he gave her the best place in the harem. When she was with the king she pleased him more than any other girl and he made her his queen. Her character gave her a beauty that outshone all the rest. When she went to the king she took nothing except for what Hegai suggested. Other girls would have decorated themselves and taken things to make them more attractive -- but Esther had an inner beauty. 'Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight' (1Pe 3:3,4). No matter what we look like, we can all have that true inner beauty that will outshine and outlast any physical beauty. That is what is valuable to God" (Robert Prins).

Reading 2 - Amos 7:14,15

"Amos answered Amaziah, 'I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees' (Amo 7:14).

When accosted by Amaziah, Amos replied that he was not a prophet by his own choosing; he did not decide to pursue prophesying as a career. Neither had he become a prophet because his father had been one. In Amos' culture it was common and expected for sons to follow in their father's line of work. Possibly Amos meant that he was not the son of a prophet in the sense that he had not been trained in one of the schools of the prophets under the tutelage of a fatherly mentor (2Ki 2:1-15; 4:1,38; 5:22; 6:1-7; 9:1). Rather Amos had earned his living in a totally unrelated form of employment.

Amos said that he "took care of sycamore-fig trees", or that he was "a gatherer of sycamore fruit" (AV). This also -- like the "shepherd" -- signified a wanderer or traveler, for the sycamore fig trees do not grow near Tekoa (Denis Baly, "The Geography of the Bible" 89).

"A 'nipper' of sycamore figs was one who pruned sycamore fig trees so they would produce more fruit. Thus Amos had a respectable agricultural business background before he moved to Israel to prophesy. He had not been a professional prophet; he did not occupy the office of prophet but only functioned as a prophet. Therefore, Amaziah should not think that Amos came to Israel to prophesy because that was the only work that he could do" (Thomas Constable, "Expository Notes").


"But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel' " (v 15).

Yahweh had called Amos, just as He had called David: Psa 78:70-72. Ct Zec 13:5. He had called him, and sent him to carry the prophetic message to Israel. In other words, Amos is saying, 'Don't think that I do this because I have nothing else to do, nor because I especially enjoy it! But God Almighty called me -- so what was I to do?'

Reading 3 - Tit 1:12

"Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons' " (Tit 1:12).

The poet, according to Clement of Alexandria and Jerome, was Epimenides, a native of Knossos in Crete, who lived approximately 550 BC. He was considered divinely inspired by the Greeks, and was ranked as one of the "seven wise men". It is possible that he was responsible for the erection of the Athenian altar "to the unknown god" (Acts 17:23). His words were quoted and thus perpetuated by the later well-known poet Callimachus.

Paul was familiar with secular literature, and was not afraid to make use of his knowledge as occasion suggested. This is at least the third citation of such writers by Paul, others being:

In the same manner, we might quote authorities in specialized fields today -- bringing their expertise to bear on the study of the Bible.

So notorious were the Cretans for lying that the Greeks derived a verb from them: "kretizein". To "cretize", or to act like a Cretan, became proverbial for lying -- just as to "corinthianize", or to act like a Corinthian, became synonymous with the grossest immoral behavior. A Cretan by nature would not flinch from saying anything designed to forward his own interests.

The Cretan false teachers were characterized as "evil brutes" -- suggesting savagery, brutality, and stupidity. (A related word is used by Paul when he speaks of fighting with "beasts" at Ephesus -- 1Co 15:32 -- no doubt referring there also to men.) This is a sad picture of human nature, and perhaps this bestiality was developed to an extraordinary degree in the natives of Crete. But it would be a great mistake to imagine that other men in their natural states are markedly better, or even to suppose that when men become Christians they automatically cease to be "beasts".

Men who are without understanding are like the beasts (Psa 73:22), and will perish like them (Psa 49:12, 20). Men who are sensual are like the beasts (2Pe 2:12). And, perhaps most to the point here, those Jewish Christians who returned to the Law are likened by Paul to "dogs" (Phi 3:2)!

They were also "lazy gluttons"! Idleness is generally associated with useless talking, or talebearing, and is most severely criticized: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Mat 12:36).

"Gluttons" (Greek "gasteer") is generally translated "womb" in Scripture. Otherwise, as here, it refers to the belly as craving food -- hence a glutton. The Cretans were famous, or infamous, as a drunken and gluttonous and greedy people. "The Cretans", wrote one contemporary observer, "on account of their innate avarice, live in a perpetual state of private quarrel and public feud and civil strife... and you will hardly find anywhere characters more tricky and deceitful than those of Crete... Money is so highly valued among them, that its possession is not only thought to be necessary, but highly creditable; and in fact greed and avarice are so native to the soil in Crete, that they are the only people in the world among whom no stigma attaches to any sort of gain whatsoever."

Although a different Greek word for "belly" is used in Phi 3:19, the thought is very similar: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Phi 3:18,19).

In view of the context in Philippians (ie, the "concision" and "circumcision" of Phi 3:2,3), it may be that Paul's use of "belly" here is a euphemistic allusion to the characteristic mark of circumcision, in which the Judaizers shamelessly "gloried". Contemptuously Paul implies that they "worship" as a "god" that cutting in their flesh that sets them apart as Jews, and, because they so misplace their faith and hope, thus deny the efficacy of the cross of Christ! Something akin to this is perhaps implied also in his words to Titus.

The description of the "circumcision group" of Crete -- those who opposed sound doctrine -- is thus completed. They are seen to be everything that the bishops should not be; each group is the opposite of the other. The Cretan false teachers are liars, sensual, brutish, lazy, and greedy (vv 10-12). The bishops are to be blameless, sober, temperate, holy, industrious, and indifferent to base gain (vv 7-9).

In language exceedingly harsh, Paul warned Titus that national characteristics should be kept in mind in the work of the Truth. The Truth had not to this stage eradicated the unlovely features of the Cretan character in those who had embraced it. It was part of the work of Titus to push forward this reformation, and to raise those who would heed to a higher level of obedience to the teachings of Christ. But it was important in that work to face squarely the problems involved; for Titus to take an unreasonably rosy view of the raw material at hand would be foolhardy.

But, extreme as Paul's description of the Cretans was, he did not say, "Leave them alone; they are hopeless." Instead, he said in effect, "They are sorry specimens, and everyone knows it. Go and convert them!" Such is the divine testimony, by no means to the goodness in human nature, but to the awesome potential of the "incorruptible seed" of God's Word (1Pe 1:23), which can produce fruit in the poorest soil -- even a hundredfold (Mat 13:23)!

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