The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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May 23

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

Reading 1 - Jos 9

"The other cities of Canaan were not more brave [vv 1,2], they were only more foolish than Gibeon [vv 3-27]. They lacked the imagination of faith which could realise the fate awaiting them. They dreamed of safety without taking measures to secure it. They believed in that 'chapter of accidents which is the Bible of the fool.' Like some Oriental governments which we have seen, they stared destruction in the face, and did nothing to ensure success in averting it. Wisdom averts the preventible, but sets itself to work at once to accept the inevitable. And Gibeon deserves credit for its clear perception of its danger, and its sagacity in trying to make the best of what could not be avoided. Perhaps, being more republican than any of the other nationalities, we have here an instance of the superior wisdom of the popular instinct to that of the rulers. Without dwelling, however, on the source of their wisdom, we may with advantage follow its example. One of the chiefest parts of the art of life is frankly, promptly accepting the inevitable. Whatever the pressure that you cannot avoid, proceed at once to make the best of it. If it be poverty, do not with desperate ventures attempt to win back wealth, but with contentment and industry set yourself to make the best of it. If disease affects you from which you cannot free yourself, come to terms with it. Send your ambassadors and make a covenant with it. And accepting the situation in which you find yourself, address yourself to gather the 'sweet uses of adversity,' and you will find weakness a great teacher and not without its compensations. If you have done wrong, and to humble yourself is a necessity of honour, do so like Gibeon, at once. If submission to your redeeming God has become a necessity of your case, do not, like the other cities of Israel, dream and defy, and then fall before the destroyer; but with timely overtures seek Him while He is near. Thus in all relations of life accept frankly the inevitable. Agree with thine adversary quickly, and with the force you cannot resist make such terms as will allow you to enjoy a less dignity, but yet some degree of happiness.

"In the action of the Gibeonites there is the good of a rudimentary faith, and there is the evil of deceit. It is to be observed that, while the evil is punished, the good is not ignored. God does not require the retraction of the oath; and when, centuries later, Israel breaks the oath, He shows His disapproval of their course. God sanctions their being spared, and thus approves the good that is mixed with evil. Happily for us, God is still the same. Perfect motive He never finds, and unmixed good He never looks on. But, in His infinite compassion, whatever of good there is in our action receives a rich reward. His love holds as keen a scrutiny as His justice, and wherever in the action of men the slightest good appears, then He rewards it" (PC).

Reading 2 - Isa 13; 14

"It is to be expected that these burdens will have a Last Days reference, in addition to their contemporary relevance. This is the normal characteristic of nearly all Messianic prophecy. In several places (eg, Isa 17:13; 13:5,6; 19:23-25; 22:22) clear links with other Last Days prophecies seem to demand this...

"Who can doubt that the further fulfillment of Isa 13; 14 will produce the very situation which made the reign of Hezekiah one of the most exciting in all history? Once again, as then, there will be wrath on the state of Israel for its godlessness and lack of faith; the Land will be overrun by a confederacy of enemies; vast numbers will be herded away as slave labour in the lands of their conquerors; then, through the repentance of the faithful remnant and the merits of one Man whom God has smitten with undeserved suffering for the sake of His people, there will come sudden incredible divine deliverance, and the City of God will be safe; a gracious year of jubilee will be celebrated, with the joyous return of all the captives; and then will ensue a reign of righteousness and peace and prosperity more adequate to fulfill all the long-cherished dreams of God's pious and faithful ones. Not all of this picture comes in Isa 13; 14; but much of it is there, and the other details are copiously filled in, in Isaiah's later prophecies" (Harry Whittaker, "Isaiah" 194, 200).

Reading 3 - 1Ti 4:8

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1Ti 4:8).

"Physical training" is from the Greek "gymnasia". By this term Paul means more than physical effort. He means the coordination of body and mind, in consistent and tireless training and effort, to master some skill. The pianist or dancer or athlete practices continually, striving always toward perfection, but never quite achieving it. Another type of such bodily "exercise" is the adherence to strict rules of diet, such as fasting (Luke 18:12: "I fast twice in the week"), which Paul mentions in v 3, or the other ascetic tendencies to self-denial which characterized both Jewish and Greek thinkers in that time: going barefoot, wearing sackcloth, abstaining from marriage and meat.

"Physical training is of some value": "Bodily exercise profiteth little" (KJV) -- or "for a few things" -- in contrast to the all things for which godliness is profitable. Or, as the KJV mg indicates, "for a little time only": Physical health lasts only a few years, and a skill lasts hardly longer. They are but man's feeble efforts and they are bounded by his own inherent limitations -- sickness and death. If man does not appeal to one greater than himself, he cannot rise above what he is by nature. If he places confidence in his own strength, to deny himself this or that, he may have removed temptation, but he is no better for it -- if he has not replaced these items with positive, godly thoughts and works. He is like water, running down, seeking its own lowest level. He is like the man who has rid his house of one foul occupant only to see seven unclean spirits fill the void. Without God in his life, nothing can profit him very much.

"But godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." What can we add more than this! Godliness in this present life brings to the disciple of Christ a sense of spiritual "peace"; a feeling of oneness, or unity with God; wellbeing and consolation even in the midst of trials. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mat 6:33).

Such a person gains "peace" and contentment now, even as he looks expectantly toward that greater "rest" of the Kingdom.

To have peace with God makes all possible worries harmless and out-of-place. This is godliness with contentment (1Ti 6:6). It can only come with complete, undivided dedication to one goal of life. Peace is not freedom from external strife. It is freedom from internal strife, because our minds are full of love and "Perfect love casteth out fear... he that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1Jo 4:18). Jesus, even in the anguish and anticipation of his terrible sufferings, was still able to say: "Peace I leave with you... In the world ye shall have tribulation; but in me ye shall have peace... Let not your hearts be troubled" (John 14:27). The godly person, just as Christ, has already "overcome the world" (John 16:33).

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