The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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May 4

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

Reading 1 - Deu 21:23

"Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse" (Deu 21:23).

In Mosaic times, a criminal was stoned, and then hung from a tree (or a stake) to publicly exhibit the punishment due to such a sin (Num 25:4; 2Sa 21:6). It was because the curse of God rested on those suspended from a tree, or a cross in death, that the Jewish leaders were anxious that the Lord should die in that way, and hence called upon Pilate to order his execution by crucifixion. This was not a Jewish form of death, so they had to seek the help of Rome. This form of death, as they saw it, would demonstrate conclusively that the hated Jesus was not the Messiah.

But Jesus' resurrection to eternal life seemed to put the lie to this curse (Rom 1:3). So what WAS cursed by God on the cross (Gal 3:13)? Was it the man Christ Jesus: his righteous, sinless character? By no means. No, it was not possible that he should be held by death (Acts 2:24).

What was cursed was not the man himself, but the sin to which his human nature was inclined: "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so HE CONDEMNED SIN IN THE FLESH" (Rom 8:3). "God made him who had no sin [that is, personally] to be sin [in a nature, or physical body, prone to sin] for us" -- in other words, he was put under the curse of the Law -- so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2Co 5:21): so that through this man who overcame sin, our sins might be forgiven!

This was also the lesson of the bronze serpent lifted up on a stake in the wilderness (Num 21).

Reading 2 - Song of Songs

"The Song of Songs is unique in Scripture. It portrays Christ's intense, overflowing love for the Ecclesia (and hers for him) expressed intimately in the first person. It is so different from Psalms, which are largely Christ's feelings toward God: his struggles, his overcomings. Some Psalms come close, like Psa 45, but with far less detail and intimacy -- and expressed more distantly in the third person. The Song expresses Christ's need for the Ecclesia: the motivation that his great love for her gives him. Does Christ have need? Does God have need? Are they not perfectly satisfied and self-sufficient? [No... because...] God is love, and the fullness of love requires an object worthy of it.

"This is what God is creating, in infinite divine patience, through the travail of the ages. God loves all His creation. Not a sparrow falls unnoticed by Him Who lovingly oversees immensity and eternity. Ninety-nine percent of all the beauty of Creation -- even on earth, let alone the vast universe, is for Him alone, and is never seen by human eye. Snowflakes fell in untold myriads of trillions for thousands of years before the microscope revealed to man that each one is a glorious treasure of delicate, intricate beauty. And a snowflake is but for a moment. But the pure and holy perfection of the Redeemed will be the crowning beauty of all the works of God. The multitudinous Christ will be the most beautiful of all the beauties of the universe: the richest of eternal beauties, formed out of common clay...

"This Song is for teaching and/or for comfort. It is to teach us that these two spiritual qualities [ie, beauty and love] are what we must devote our lives to developing -- 'Let us be glad and rejoice... the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his Bride hath made herself ready" (Rev 19:7). The true Bride will have made herself ready. She will conform to the Beauty and Love herein portrayed. There will be a ready and prepared Bride, perfect in beauty, without spot or blemish, waiting to welcome her Lord. We see her in this Song being greeted and praised and embraced by the Bridegroom, and invited to be with him for ever. If we fit into the picture; if we are in full harmony and compliance; if this is where all our heart and interest and labors and efforts center, then this Song is for our joy and comfort.

"If, however, this is not so, and our minds and time and interests and activities are turned elsewhere, then this Song is for warning and instruction, and not for comfort at all. There is no comfort to be taken unless we are faithfully laboring to the utmost of our ability. There will be a Bride of perfect Beauty and Love. Whether, in that great Day, we are part of that Bride, or part of the vast multitude turned weeping away, depends entirely upon what we devote our life to" (GVG).

"The two characters of this Song are Solomon, the Peace Giver, and Shulamith, the Peace-Receiver. Both names are related to Peace. Peace is of one fabric with Love and Beauty. He is the Prince of Peace: that 'peace of God' transcending comprehension (Phi 4:7); the 'great peace' that they alone enjoy who manifest in all their lives that they 'love His law' (Psa 119:165); the peace that none can take from them -- 'peace with God': life's ultimate consummation (Rom 5:1).

"The purpose of this Song is to develop the mind of the Spirit. This will not come naturally, however long we are just 'in the Truth'. It requires intense effort and study and meditation and practice -- just like anything worthwhile does. What time and labor and trouble and care people will so eagerly put into getting the things of this life! -- and then expect the infinitely greatest thing of all to be handed to them without effort. What blind and pitiful folly!" (GVG).

"Solomon": the name conjures up images of... the Temple of God; wisdom, light to Gentiles (the queen of Sheba). The initial fulfillment of the promises to David, glory, majesty, wealth. All of this points to a "greater than Solomon" (Mat 12:42). Solomon is an imperfect type -- but a great type nonetheless.

The Names

The Bride refers to Christ throughout as her "Beloved" or "Lover". But she does not (often?) speak directly to him. Instead, she talks about him, because:
But Christ speaks directly to the Bride, and refers to her in changing/expanding/deepening terms: she is: the fairest, the most beautiful of women (Song 1:8), his "love", his companion, his friend (Song 2), all fair, flawless, his spouse (Song 4), the "Shulamite" (the feminine counterpart of Solomon/peace) (Song 6), and the prince's daughter (Song 7) -- suggesting royalty, majesty, and rulership.

The Song of Songs is perhaps the most unique book in the whole Bible. As in Esther, there is no direct mention of God, but God is throughout the Book. In the Song, the chief character is the one who is the "greater than Solomon" -- God manifest in the flesh (Joh 1:14).

The purpose of this book of love is to create a certain frame of mind... a sweetness of character: disposed toward gentleness and kindness and affection. The spiritual is taught by means of the natural. Spiritual love is seen in -- and mirrored by -- the natural expressions of love. The eternal spiritual reality is more meaningful by far than the passing fleshly shadow that represents it: 2Co 4:16-18.

The Song depicts the relationship between Christ and the ecclesia:

so that the contemplation of the one (Christ) may generate the development of the other (that is, a Christ-like character in those who constitute the ecclesia).

Reading 3 - Acts 13:29

"When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb" (Acts 13:29).

The cross on which Christ was crucified is called by the apostles a "tree" (Acts 5:30; 10:39; Gal 3:13; 1Pe 2:24), because -- though a piece of wood that meant death for those hung thereon -- that special cross meant life to those who looked to it in faith! The "wood of death" was for them "a tree of life", and the "fruit" that hung from its branches, if partaken of, would give life everlasting (Gen 2:9; 3:22; Rev 2:7; 22:2,14,19).

Ever after, in the peculiar vision and language of the inspired writers of the New Testament, the dull, barren, bloody, and forbidding piece of wood would seem like a bright, green, fruitful and inviting tree... the tree of life!

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