The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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May 17

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

Reading 1 - Jos 1:6

"Be strong and courageous" (Jos 1:6).

"Two incidents happened recently that seemed irrelevant. Both combined, however, to impress a command. A young father called for some reason, bringing his two small children for a ride. The boy, sweet toddler, was into everything -- poker, tongs and cupboards. Finally, he climbed on to a window-seat, fingered my Bible, leaving it open, got down, and raised a protest about having to go home.

"Next day we found a robin in the garden, half stunned, balancing on quivering legs. One side of its head was terribly injured and blinded, though the other bright eye regarded me with no fear. The bird ... allowed itself to be picked up, put in a basket, and brought indoors.

"What could be done? If healed in part and later released it would become prey to cat or hawk. But it must now be tended. In a few hours it pecked at food, flew to the window, and even managed to chirrup. What unconscious courage shone from the one bright eye as it clung to my finger! I dared not look at the other side. But the Father who knows when a sparrow falls would hear a prayer for a robin. I asked God just to bless it -- and He did. The brave little bird lay next morning with stiff legs pointing to the ceiling.

"I tidied the room. The Bible lay open as the toddler had left it, and there shone forth the words from Jos 1: 'Be strong, and of a good courage...'

"If a tiny bird, unconscious of its Creator, could show courage worthy of a human hero, then the courage that our Heavenly Father commands His children, who profess faith in Him, should be the source of their greatest consolation of trust. 'Be strong, and of a good courage... Have not I commanded thee?' Surely in the smallness of our own puny affairs we must obey that command.

"O Lord, help us to hold fast to this Thy command -- 'until the day break, and the shadows flee away' " (Catherine Morgan, "Think on These Things" 43,44).

[This story reminds me of the lines from a poem by DH Lawrence, entitled "Self-Pity":

"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself."]

Reading 2 - Isa 7:14

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isa 7:14).

Other Old Testament prophecies of the "virgin birth" are to be found in Isa 41:9; 43:1; 44:2,24; 45:4; 46:3; 49:1; Psa 22:9,10; 71:6; 89:26,27; 110:1,3; 132:11; Gen 3:15; Mic 5:2; 2 Sam 7:14; Gen 49:25; Jer 31:22; Pro 30:4.

The first express prophecy in the Old Testament is Gen 3:15, the seed of the woman (but not the man) who would destroy the power of sin symbolized by the serpent. And the first express fulfillment of prophecy in the New Testament is Mat 1:23. How was this prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled? Over the centuries this has become a Jewish controversy, and even a Christian controversy, as witnessed by some modern versions that translate the Hebrew "alma" or the Greek "parthenos" by "young woman" or the like, instead of "virgin". Of one thing there can be no doubt: no matter what the best translation of the original words, both Matthew and Luke agree that Mary had had no relations with any man when Jesus was conceived. God has clearly shown how Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled despite whatever minor arguments may revolve around the precise words used.

The Hebrew "alma" and its related words are derived from a root signifying to cover or conceal. One common suggestion is that it refers to the practice of keeping unmarried girls in seclusion in their parents' homes. This explanation would favor virginity as the meaning of "alma", but would not prove it absolutely. However, a more meaningful aspect comes into view when the antonym is considered; it means "to uncover". "To uncover the nakedness" (so translated, literally, by the KJV) of another is a Hebrew euphemism for having sexual intercourse (Lev 20:11,17-21). So one who is "covered" -- an "alma" -- is then specifically one who has not engaged in sexual intercourse.

Reading 3 - 1Th 1:9

"They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1Th 1:9).

Some of the Gentile converts in Thessalonica were "devout Greeks" (Acts 17:4), who had presumably already abandoned the idols of their fathers so as to worship, if only in a secondary way, the God of Israel. But many others must have had little or no connection with the synagogue, since only at the call of the gospel did they turn from their idols. That 1 Thessalonians is written to a predominantly Gentile group is suggested by:

Paul's description of the Thessalonians' conversion echoes his preaching in Lystra ("ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God" -- Acts 14:15-17), and Athens ("I perceive that in all things [their many idols] ye are too superstitious... the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent" -- Acts 17:22,30).

In Greek "idol" literally means a "shadow" or a "phantom." By Paul's preaching the "idols" were discredited as mere imaginations of enfeebled, philosophical minds. They were, in Paul's robust and blunt words, "nothing" -- or more literally, "no-gods" (1Co 8:4-6). They simply did not exist. The images of wood and stone had unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, and mouths out of which no speech would ever come (Psa 115:4-7). Some of the most exquisite irony and sarcasm in the Old Testament is reserved for the "no-gods" and those who trust in them (1Ki 18:27; Isa 44:9-20).

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