November 30, 2006

Mt 27-28 / End of Year One / Folos / Tidbits

(Read again today Exodus 15:1-18, the seasonal canticle for December; comments on it are here.)

Matthew 27-28 concludes St. Matthew’s Divinely-inspired narrative of our Lord’s death and resurrection. We begin with chapter 27 and its narration of Jesus’s death. In contrast to Peter’s sorrow that we heard about yesterday, Judas’s sorrow ends in despair of God’s mercy (27:1-10). I was struck by the response of the Jewish leaders to Judas’s confession of sin, although they end up hearing similar words from Pilate (see 27:24). Again notice how in connection with Judas’s “disposal” Matthew points out the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Before Pilate, Jesus also confessed the truth but would not answer the false accusations of the Jewish leaders (27:11-26). Pilate’s and his wife’s assessment of Jesus as innocent are notable (27:19, 23). While the blood of Jesus is in one sense on the hands of the Jews (27:25), there is another real sense in which you and I are each responsible for Jesus’ death (as well expressed here and here). When we refer to Jesus’s “suffering, death, and resurrection”, we are likely to think of the “suffering” primarily as consisting of events such as those in 27:27-31, but the “suffering” can be all things that Jesus endured for us, including such things as the temptations He faced all through His ministry (see, for example, Hebrews 2:18). The verbal mocking of the soldiers is picked up at Golgotha by those who passed by, the Jewish leaders, and those who were crucified with Jesus (27:32-44). The words of Psalm 22:1 are in 27:45-56 on the lips of their rightful speaker but are misunderstood, literally and theologically, by those nearby. The tearing of the Temple curtain in 27:51 is usually said to symbolize believers’ direct access to God, but perhaps more brings an end to the sacrificial system, dismantles the temple (a la 21:12-13 and 24:2), and directs the hearer to the real mercy seat, the cross. (Remember that the Most Holy Place was empty!) Matthew 27:52-53 is almost certainly more puzzling, especially if understood literally. The symbolism of the literal understanding and the interpretation of figurative understandings could focus on Christ on the cross conquering death and making possible the resurrection to eternal life or perhaps on the saints who, one commentator says, “went from a glory of anticipation to the glory of the reality of Christ’s resurrection.” (That the saints do not appear in the Holy City until after Jesus’ own resurrection is no doubt significant, perhaps reinforcing the connectedness of Jesus’ death and resurrection.) More important is the centurion’s confession of faith (27:54), using the very words of the mockers (27:40, 43). All these events (27:50-53, as well as 45 and 46) recall Jesus’s description of the signs of the end and remind us that we are well into the latter days. Joseph of Arimathea obtained Jesus’s body from Pilate and buried Him (27:57-61), and the next day, the high Sabbath, the Jewish leaders convinced Pilate to have the tomb guarded (27:62-66). The burial is interestingly said to be the confirmation of Jesus’s death, since verse 50, the only other really possible statement that Jesus died, is not expressed in the usual way and so is more likely taken as the giving of the Holy Spirit. (Similarly, as we see in chapter 28, there is no explicit narration of Jesus’s act of rising, which hardly means that He did not rise!) The significance of the burial for confirming His death carries over to us, who in Baptism are buried with Him (Romans 6:3-4).

Chapter 28 narrates the resurrection and a few following events. Sunday morning, an earthquake and angel opening the tomb scare the guards practically to death and reveal to the women that Jesus had risen as He had prophesied (28:1-10). The angel directs the women to convey the Good News to the disciples and to direct them to Galilee (anticipating 28:16-20), and on the way the women meet Jesus Who reinforces the message. The guards report to the Jewish leaders and a cover story is devised, with the guards being bribed to lie and presumably risk consequences for sleeping on duty (38:11-15). Finally, Jesus and the disciples are reunited, and Jesus commissions the 11 disciples to make disciples of the Gentiles by baptizing and teaching and practicing everything entrusted to them, including the exercise of the Keys in Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. In those ways—through Baptism, Word, Absolution, and Supper—Jesus is with His Church always (28:16-20). Even now He is with us. Matthew does not tell of our Lord’s Ascension, apparently preferring to leave the hearer with the understanding that Jesus is still with His Church (Immanu-El)and perhaps also to keep God’s judgment focused on Jesus’s death and resurrection and not some future event (of course, with God all time is, as I like to say, one great big “now”).

Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise: the Lutheran understanding of Matthew 28:19-20 is that it only applies to the apostles and their successors (that is, pastors; see the Lutheran Confessions, for example the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, paragraphs 30-31, Tappert, p.325). Note well that although all believers are not included in the so-called “Great Commission” the responsibility of the laity to live faithfully in their vocations, bearing witness to the truth in deed and word, is no less important than the responsibility of the clergy, as they go about their calling, to make disciples by the use of such catechetical material as St. Matthew’s Gospel account.

Biblog folos today come from tidbits posted on Sunday. First, in regards to the Montana congregation that made a collection of electronics to give to the people who vandalized their building, a reader made the following comment.

About those “adult” teenagers, the wreckage bothers me even more than the theft. And, I find it hard to believe that Jesus meant “shower vandals with electronics”! I wonder if the church will do the same after another break in. In my opinion they are asking for it to happen. Maybe they’ll have a better security system next time!?

Yesterday I was told that same passage also didn’t mean to not pursue damages against someone who effectively takes away your primary means of transportation. Of course, Jesus in Matthew 5:40 does say “if someone wants to sue you” (NIV).

Second, in regards to the local house a Memphis congregation gave to Katrina survivors who then sold it and moved back to New Orleans, a reader commented as follows.

I hate to hear of a church getting taken the way that one did with the house, because it’s probable some of the people who gave to buy it had less than the ones who “took and ran”. Somebody didn’t do enough checking, though that’s easier to see from this end.

No one apparently wanted to defend the position that a gift once given is for the recipients to do with as they see fit. Nor did anyone comment on how we too often abuse God’s generosity.

Today’s post is number 365 and with it we come to the end of year one of our effort to Be in the Word through daily Bible reading. Thank you to all those who have participated, especially those who made comments on the readings, asked questions, and sent links. If you have been reading since the beginning and kept up, today’s reading brings you to the end of the Bible. Especially if it is your first time all the way through, Congratulations! Praise God for revealing to us in His Word His salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. And, don’t stop reading! Tomorrow is another day, and Revelation 1-2 awaits!

I have a handful of tidbits for our last day of the Church Year. I’m just glad this man wasn’t a Lutheran pastor. ... These survey results suggest at least some younger people are less moral than older ones. ... Can you be Jewish without converting to Judaism? ... A reader sent this link, and I wonder if we could celebrate Lincoln’s birthday without talking about Lincoln (or maybe we already do when we call it “President’s Day” because Lincoln was a pretty divisive man). ... And, Santa Claus scares people? The Christ Child brings gifts and trees? Has the world gone mad? Apparently so.

Three new Q&A about our recent reading of Matthew are now posted, starting with this one. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 29, 2006

Mt 25-26

(Psalms 149 and 150 are appointed for today, and my previous posts on them are here and here, respectively.)

Matthew 25-26 today finishes the fifth discourse (chapter 25) and continues, from chapters 21-22, the narration of the events of Holy Week (chapter 26).

Still teaching about the last things, or eschatology, the fifth discourse wraps up with two parables, of the ten virgins (25:1-13) and of the talents (25:14-30), and the description of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). The first parable, that of the ten virgins, was just the Gospel reading this past Sunday, the Last Sunday of the Church Year and recalls the parable of the Son’s wedding in 22:1-14. Christ is clearly the Bridegroom (as in 9:15). Those people—male or female, virgins or not—who are not prepared for His “final coming” by faith, which is usually how the oil is understood, are locked out of the wedding banquet. We hear of the wedding and meeting the Lord and think of the Sacrament of the Altar. We are said to get our term “closed communion” in part from 25:10’s closing of the door, and with 25:11 we should recall 7:21-22 (although in 25:11the NIV translates differently the same Greek word, kurios, or “Lord”). The second parable, that of the talents, is understood better when we remember that a “talent” was literally a unit of money and not an ability or gift, although that meaning of the word supposedly is derived from this parable. Regardless, the parable is not about money or necessarily even abilities. We want to think of the parable likely applying to the accountability of the Servants of the Word and not strictly to every believer. In the description of the sheep and the goats (notably not a parable), the Son of Man separates out, on the basis of their faith-produced good works or the lack thereof, all who believed in Him and who did not. (By Divine inspiration, Matthew introduced such separation in judgment already with John the Baptizer’s preaching, as in 3:12, and continued the theme throughout the Gospel account.) Obviously those believers who die before the Lord’s final coming are already judged, but in the scene the parable describes they are resurrected and the outcome of that judgment is made known. The Shepherd and sheep imagery is most likely familiar to you by now, but do note how the believers performed good deeds as if unaware. Also contrast the gift of the inheritance in verse 34 with what the unbelievers and evil angels earned in verse 41. Finally, note that 26:1 is gives the indication of the end of the fifth discourse and the five discourses. Jesus is about to personally carry out all He has taught that His followers are required to do.

The events of Holy Week told in chapter 26 are Jesus’s again announcing His death and the Jews’ plotting to kill Jesus (26:1-5), the anointing of Jesus (26:6-13), Judas’s agreeing to betray Jesus (26:14-16), the instituting of the Lord’s Supper (26:17-30), Jesus’s prophesying Peter’s denial (26:31-35), Jesus’s praying in Gethsemane (26:36-46), Jesus’s being arrested (26:47-56) and going before the Sanhedrin (26:57-68), and Peter’s betraying Jesus (26:69-75). The connection in 26:2 to the Passover, and thus also the Feast of Unleavened Bread (26:17), is very important for understanding the deliverance Jesus, the Lamb of God without blemish, brings about by shedding His own blood. The woman of 26:7 is usually thought to be Mary, the sister of Lazarus (see John 12:1-11; some also think she is to be identified with Mary Magdalene), and note well in 26:13 the reference to the Gospel on the lips of our Lord. As Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover, Jesus prophesies of His betrayal and identifies Judas as the betrayer, but, more importantly for us, Jesus institutes the Sacrament of the Altar as a means or way of receiving the forgiveness of sins through bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. Note in 26:30 the liturgical context. Jesus’s prophecy of Peter’s denial comes as a result of His pointing to the imminent fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7 (again with the Shepherd and sheep imagery). Note in 26:32 Jesus’s promise to be reunited with them (we will see that fulfilled in 28:10, 16-20). In Gethsemane, Jesus’s inner circle of three disciples goes further into the garden with Him but presumably are no more watchful than the others. You will likely recognize 26:41 as a common statement, but don’t miss 26:39 and 42 and their relationships, for different reasons, to 20:22 and 6:10. The betrayal with a kiss is a perversion of what should be a sign of the most intimate friendship, and Jesus’s calling Judas “friend” in 26:50 likely drips with irony. Note how twice, in 26:54 and 56, Jesus points to the fulfillment of Scriptures such as the writings of the prophets. Before the Sanhedrin, Jesus clearly alludes to Scripture in order to make His identity clear to His questioners—Daniel 7:13-14 in Matthew 26:64, perhaps referring to the crucifixion—and there is no doubt His questioners understand His meaning, based on their reaction (26:65-68). As Jesus under an oath faithfully faces the fiercest of foes inside, outside Peter, also under an oath, unfaithfully cowers when challenged by two servant girls. The Holy Spirit worked through the sign the Lord had appointed to call Peter to repentance, and we know that Peter combined his sorrow with faith that he would be forgiven, unlike sorrowful but unbelieving Judas, about whom we will read tomorrow.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:57 AM

November 28, 2006

Ps 148 / Mt 23-24

I’m surprised that the last time I commented on Psalm 148, which we read again today, I didn’t comment on verse 4’s “waters above the skies” (NIV; “waters that be above the heavens” KJV). The creation of these waters above is described in Genesis 1:7 and in this psalm contrasted to the waters below in verse 7 (see their apparent mention together also in Psalm 42:7). You may remember that, in the global deluge that we call the Flood, the waters above were let loose through heaven’s gates and windows (Genesis 7:11; 8:2). (For additional references to the waters above you can also see Job 26:10; 38:8-11, 16; Psalm 68:33; Proverbs 8:28.) Heaven’s windows were also opened to feed the people in the wilderness with the bread from heaven, the manna (Psalm 78:23-24). And, as we saw recently, God promises through Malachi that the people cannot outgive God, Who opens the windows of heaven to pour out such a great blessing that they cannot receive it all (Malachi 3:10). Is it just a “coincidence” that when heaven’s gates and doors open blessings such as water and bread come out? Can we read of these things and not think of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar? Remember that even though the water from above and below flooded the earth and destroyed so much, the Divinely-inspired St. Peter says that same water saved Noah and his family and points to Baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21).

With Matthew 23-24 today we begin our reading of Jesus’s fifth discourse, which continues through 26:1 (we read the rest tomorrow). This discourse, according to one commentator, is “Jesus’ personal commentary on His death and resurrection”. The fifth discourse begins with Jesus’s speaking seven woes against the Jewish leaders (chapter 23) and continues with what is called the “little apocalypse” (chapter 24).

As we begin chapter 23, we notice that the office the Pharisees held was to be respected even if the Pharisees themselves were not (23:2-4). The criticism of the Pharisees is for their prideful hypocrisy and false teaching, not for such things as wearing garments and the like (23:5-12). The Pharisees were keeping people out of the kingdom but not entering themselves and were converting people but to their false teaching of works righteousness (23:13-15). The Jewish leaders for their own purposes tried to split hairs that couldn’t be split and in the process missed the point of the law (23:16-32). They would not repent, despite God sending them “sages and rages and ages of teachers”; the Jews instead martyred them, from Abel, the first righteous man murdered, to Zechariah, the last, according to 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, which came at the end of the Old Testament (23:33-39). Of course, our Lord would be just the latest but not the last in the line of faithful men and women to be so murdered. As you read 23:39 remember that Jesus has already entered Jerusalem and had these things said to Him (Psalm 118:26; Matthew 21:9); while some enemies would confess Him at the foot of the cross, the hearers of the Gospel, at least those in liturgical congregations, will recognize the words of the liturgy of the Divine Service, where we see Jesus in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. Presumably such things will also be said, by believers, to our Lord at the time of His “Final Coming” (Pr. Sullivan’s edifying term from his sermon Sunday).

The teaching about the end times and other such last things (“eschatology”) in Matthew 24 is in many ways easier to understand than the book of Revelation, but Jesus’ teaching may still not be as clear cut as we might like. Amidst such things as the destruction of the latest Temple (24:1-2), we note the false christs (24:5, 23-24) and other such signs of the end, remembering that in the main all these signs were at least begun to be fulfilled in connection with Jesus crucifixion or shortly thereafter. For comments relative to 24:14, see here. Matthew 24:15 is taken by at least one commentator to refer to Jesus’ crucifixion, along with 24:28 as being the Roman eagle-topped standards surrounding our Lord’s corpse on the cross. Of course, as in the Old Testament prophecy, the events of the “latter days” are telescoped or compressed in our Lord’s teaching, so the fullness of “immediately” of 24:29 has not turned out not to be as “immediate” as some in the earliest days of the New Testament congregations thought it would be—although, again, these events can be seen as partially fulfilled or at least begun to be fulfilled in the crucifixion. We can recall in more recent days those who have claimed to know the date of the end, but our Lord says all such claims are false and that the end will come like the Flood on those who had ignored Noah’s preaching (24:26-27, 36-44; remember 7:24-27!). What people might do if they knew for sure when the world was ending was the topic of this movie I saw with members of my congregation in Canada when it came out in 1998. In the wake of the “Left Behind” phenomenon, we note that the “taking” in 24:40-41 is not a good thing in light of 24:39 and that the one “left” might be said to be “forgiven”. In 24:45-51 we find our Lord describing faithful servants who feed the Lord’s household while He is “away”; of what does that feeding make you think?

Remember you are welcome to ask about anything I haven’t explained or haven’t explained to your satisfaction. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:46 AM

November 27, 2006

Ps 147 / Mt 21-22

When I was on the debate team in high school, there was an argument that the negative side would often make against those affirming the proposition of the federal government taking some sort of action that was supposed to change people’s behavior. The argument was that one cannot fiat the attitudes that usually lie behind such behavior. The word “fiat” is Latin for “Let it be done” and refers to an arbitrary command. Yes, it is true that to some extent the federal government has fiat power and can order such things as cars having seatbelts and people wearing them (one of the “cases” argued back then), but, when it comes right down to it, the government cannot make people who are against seatbelts wear them. This old argument came to my mind today as I reread Psalm 147, for in verse 15 God is described as having such fiat power, and the verses that follow make it clear that God’s commands, arbitrary or not, actually accomplish what they say. His command comes to the earth and it snows, freezes, hails, and blows cold; He sends His word again, and the snow, frost, hail, and ice melt. I think as we reflect on the Word of God that carries out the errand on which it is sent we must think also of the Word made flesh (John 1:1-18), Jesus Christ. He is the Word that created and still preserves. He is the Word of law and of Gospel. He is the Word Who became flesh for us and for our salvation. He is the Word revealed to us Who makes us children of God. (My previous post, with comments of a more general nature about this psalm, is here.)

Still between the fourth and fifth discourses, Matthew 21-22 begins St. Matthew’s Divinely-inspired narrative of our Lord’s death and resurrection for us. Today we hear of the triumphal entry (21:1-11), of the cleansing of the Temple (21:12-17), and of various teachings of our Lord (21:18-22:46) the latter two of which are preparatory for the fifth discourse if not part of the discourse itself. In reading of the triumphal entry (21:1-11), we of course note how Matthew points out the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah, whom we previously noted can be called “the prophet of Holy Week”. The crowds waved victory palm branches and spoke words taken from the Old Testament (for example, Psalm 118:26), that are also rich in meaning (remember that “Hosanna” is Hebrew for “Save” and that calling out to Jesus in the way they did in some sense identified Him as the Messiah). At the Temple (21:12-17), Jesus disrupts the buying and selling, buying and selling that were taking place not so much to facilitate people’s sacrifices anymore but to turn a profit for the Jewish leaders. Those same Jewish leaders are incensed that people are praising Jesus, but Jesus Himself directs them to Psalm 8:2, in many ways as a rebuke of their own failure to confess Him. Next, St. Matthew tells how Jesus cursed a fig tree (21:18-22) and again challenged and rebuked the Jewish leaders who challenged His authority (21:23-27).

The three parables that follow (21:28-32, 21:33-44, and 22:1-14) are all closely related. In the first of these three parables, Jesus compares the Jews to a son who said he would do the father’s will but didn’t, and Jesus compares the tax collectors and prostitutes (the “sinners”) to a son who said he wouldn’t do the father’s will but did; the Jews would not repent while the others did. In the second of these three parables, the Jews are likened to tenants of a vineyard (remember all the rich Old Testament imagery of Israel as a vine, etc.) who kill the Son (as in the crucifixion) in order to try to take the vineyard from Him, and from their own mouths come words that tell how God would turn to the Gentiles. In the third of these three parables, which we just heard as the Gospel reading on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, the Son killed in the previous parable is now resurrected and being thrown a wedding feast. Those initially invited to the feast refused to come, so others are invited, and of those only the ones clothed in the provided wedding garment remain when the king enters (which entrance is analogous to our Lord’s Final Coming).

After the parables are four more short pieces of teaching that come as the Jewish leaders confront Jesus. First, Jesus teaches not only that taxes should be paid to the government but also that we who bear the image of God should give ourselves to Him (22:15-22). Second, Jesus teaches that those who die in this world are not dead but alive with the Lord (22:23-33). (That teaching is often—and likely incorrectly—understood as if those married on earth are no longer married in heaven, when what the Lord actually says while making a larger point about the resurrection is that men will not take wives nor will wives be given to husbands in heaven; see more here.) Third, Jesus summarizes the two tables of the law, that is, commandments 1-3 and 4-7, with Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, respectively (22:34-40). Finally, Jesus stumps the Jewish leaders by asking them to interpret Psalm 110:1 (22:41-45).

Every aspect of the teaching in today’s reading may not be perfectly clear, but we can be sure to glean Gospel comfort. Jesus is the Messiah Who entered Jerusalem to die and rise again to save us from our sins. As did the crowds that day, now in the liturgy of the Divine Service we call out to Him, “Hosanna! Save!” and receive the forgiveness of sins. We recognize Jesus’s authority, repent, and are baptized, and thus are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, which enables us to remain in God’s presence at the Last Day. (Timely reading, indeed, for this Monday after the Last Sunday of the Church Year!)

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 26, 2006

Ps 146 / Mt 19-20 / Folo / Tidbits

Holidays are not always happy times for everyone but can be times of disappointment and loneliness. People may have made promises on which they failed to follow through, or we may have had expectations that were simply too high. As Psalm 146 reminds us, people such as human leaders can and do disappoint, especially when it comes to real salvation (vv.3-4). The Lord does not disappoint when it comes to real salvation (vv.5-10), although we can have unreasonably high expectations of Him, too. If we pay close attention to His promises to us in Jesus Christ and expect them to be fulfilled, we will not be disappointed or ever alone. (My previous post on the whole Psalm is here.)

In between the fourth and fifth discourses, although picking up themes from all the discourses, Matthew 19-20 tells of Jesus’s ministry in Judea and Perea (the east or so-called “Transjordan” side of the river, today simply called “Jordan”), where He taught about divorce (19:1-12), taught about little children (19:13-15), taught the rich young man (19:16-30), told the parable of the workers in the vineyard (20:1-16), made His third passion prediction (20:17-19), answered James’s and John’s mother’s request (20:20-28), and healed a blind person’s vision (20:29-34).

In 19:1-12, Pharisees bring up the matter of divorce, as many following the way of the law do today, likely trying to lure Jesus into siding with one of two schools of rabbinic interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (see here on that passage, and see also this and this Q&A about it): one school held that marital unfaithfulness was the only reason for divorce, and the other school held that divorce could be over any reason. Jesus can be said to not take either side. In 19:4-6 He points back to creation and the one flesh God, the passive actor, creates in marriage (Genesis 1:27 and 2:24), suggesting that human beings should stop separating (or possibly “cannot separate”) such a one-flesh, and, although the Lutheran Church usually allows divorce and remarriage to the so-called innocent party, in 19:8-9 He can be understood to say that divorce for any reason, even in the case of marital unfaithfulness, causes adultery upon remarriage. The disciples certainly understand Jesus to be teaching that there is one spouse for life (19:10), and, in response to their reaction, Jesus, emphasizing the Gospel, points to the grace and blessings of God to enable people to live in whatever state they find themselves (19:11-12; see also 1 Corinthians 7 for how the Divinely-inspired St. Paul applies this teaching of our Lord; my comments on that chapter are here). The forgiveness Jesus calls for of the most intimate sin cannot be placed by accident after the parable of the unmerciful servant (18:21-35), but rather the teaching illuminates and interprets the deeds. As we so often pray in the Divine Service, it is only in the forgiveness of sins that two sinful human beings can live together as God intended, being Sacramentally forgiven themselves and then forgiving one another.

We should understand Jesus’s practice in 19:13-15 in light of Jesus’s teaching in 18:1-14. Today, of course, faithful churches baptize children and adults not as a sign of their commitment to God but as God’s way of working forgiveness of sins, delivering from death and the devil, and giving eternal salvation to all who believe His promises that baptized believers are saved and that unbelievers are not.

The rich young man of 19:16-30 wants to earn the eternal life that God gives as a gift to those who believe in Jesus Christ. The young man thinks of the commandments as we often do, in a minimal sort of way, forbidding certain negative behaviors, forgetting all the positive things they enjoin. Neither he nor we can ever enter the kingdom based on what we do. As with the teaching on divorce, the disciples are astonished at how harsh Jesus’s teaching seems, but Jesus directs them to how salvation is God’s doing and to the rewards in the kingdom.

In 20:1-16, Jesus makes it clear that the gracious gift of eternal life is the same for everyone regardless of how long he or she has believed, for, again, our works do not matter in the scheme of things, except as fruit of the faith that saves us. The meaning of the KJV and ASV of 20:15, “Is thine eye evil”, is made clearer in the paraphrase of the NIV, “Or are you envious” (the NASB has something between the two, “Is thine eye envious”).

Placed on the road to Jerusalem, Matthew’s third recorded passion prediction (20:17-19) adds details about the Jews turning the Son of Man over to the Gentiles to be mistreated and killed, but the general prediction is the same, not only of His death but also of His resurrection. We cannot forget that the Resurrection is the victory, without which the Crucifixion would be defeat.

The request by James’s and John’s mother (20:20-28) is in some ways typical of a mother wanting success and the best for her children. That for which she asked, however, was not Jesus’s to give and reflected a different mindset than that of the kingdom which is about service. Jesus’s statement in 20:28 is a wonderful expression of His mission on earth, in full redemptive terms.

Much closer to Jerusalem, Jesus heals two blind men sitting by the road (20:29-34). In a sense the account of the healing, with the men shouting out to Jesus for mercy using Messianic titles, anticipates that which comes next in Matthew 21: Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but for that we wait until tomorrow. For today and every day, however, we can similarly cry, “Lord, have mercy!”

Today's Biblog folo stems from my comment Saturday about Matthew 17:15’s fire and water making us think of unavoidable judgment prompted the following email from a reader.

Or, if you grew up in the neighborhood of a girl who did such things [as] falling against the stove or into the laundry tub, depending on what she was doing when she had a seizure, you might think of that. Lunatic, epileptic, demon possessed, give you quite a bit to think about when you wake up from a seizure yourself. Sixty years later the magic of MRI tells you it never was epilepsy. Do you get your life back? Not exactly.

Indeed, I’m sure for the father in the Gospel account the fire and water were also primarily literal; I was adding to that literal meaning the usual figurative meanings given to fire and water in St. Matthew’s Gospel account. As for personal experiences, well we all can look forward to the glorified bodies at the resurrection!

Today we have a handful of tidbits. Seemingly losing sales from a boycott, Wal-Mart backs away from its support of the gay agenda just in time for Christmas shopping. ... The Vatican today is getting an early screening of “just-in-time for Christmas” Christmas movie, one that is coming out of what they are calling “Holy Hollywood”. ... Here’s a new take on our recent reading of someone taking a cloak and giving them your tunic, too. ... What do you think about this? Was the house the couple’s to do with as they saw fit? ... And, animal activists go overboard against a congregation's live nativity scene with no animals involved.

There's a new Q&A here. God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 25, 2006

Ps 145 / Mt 17-18

Today as I reread Psalm 145 I reflected a little bit on the second half of verse 3. In the NIV, the psalmist says that no one can fathom the Lord’s greatness, and that statement reminded me of a somewhat philosophical argument for the existence of God made by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). In the argument, Anselm defines God as something greater than which we can imagine nothing. A problem would appear to be that the psalmist says we cannot even fathom how great God is, and so perhaps, if we cannot understand how great God is, it would seem that by implication it would be impossible for us to imagine something greater than God. I can imagine philosophers using the psalm verse both to support Anselm’s argument and to attack it, which is probably how I would lean towards using the verse. Mind you, I would not argue against the existence of God, but I don’t think people can be convinced of God’s existence by appeals to their unsanctified reason. Incidentally, the KJV, ASV, and NASB all refer to the Lord’s greatness as “unsearchable”, which brought to my mind Romans 11:33. To be sure, the Old Testament speaks of the impossibility of searching out the nature of God’s greatness (as we have seen in Psalm 145:3), His understanding (Isaiah 40:28), His miraculous deeds (Job 5:9; 9:10), and the number of His years (Job 36:26); however, the Greek word Paul uses in Romans 11:33 is not used at all in the Greek version of the Old Testament. The meanings between the Hebrew word in today’s Psalm and the Greek word used in Romans is essentially the same, however, and we must let the Spirit lead us to Paul’s doxology when we cannot understand God’s hidden will. Thank God, however, that we have His will revealed for us in Jesus Christ, and it is hard to imagine anything greater than that! (My previous post, which provides a good overview of the psalm as a whole, is here.)

Matthew 17-18 wraps up Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Caesarea Philippi with both the details of the Transfiguration (17:1-13) and the healing of a boy with a demon (17:14-21), tells of His teaching in Galilee about both His death (17:22-23) and the Temple tax (17:24-27), and essentially gives the so-called fourth discourse, said to be about “incidental” matters of church practice (chapter 18, although the actual conclusion comes in 19:1).

In chapter 17, the Transfiguration comes first. By Divine inspiration, Matthew in 17:2 uniquely reports the detail about Jesus’ face shining like the sun (compare Luke 9:29), in 17:4 Matthew charitably does not characterize Peter’s statement (compare Mark 9:6 and Luke 9:33), and uniquely reports both in 17:5 the Father’s statement of pleasure with the Son and in 17:6-7 the disciples’ response of worship and Jesus’ statement to them. Jesus tells the disciples to keep the Transfiguration a secret until after His resurrection (17:9), and He (again) explains to them how John the Baptizer was “Elijah” but that the very same Jewish teachers who spoke of “Elijah’s” coming failed to recognize it, just as they were failing to recognize Jesus’s coming and would do what they wanted to with Him (17:10-13). Next Matthew tells how Jesus cast out of a boy a demon that the disciples had been unable to cast out (17:14-20). Certainly the fire and water of 17:15 should make us think of unavoidable judgment. As for why the disciples could not cast the demon out, Mark 9:29 puts it a different way, but the idea of complete dependence on God is the same. Back in Galilee, He makes what is regarded in Matthew’s account as His second passion prediction (17:22-23). After that, Jesus miraculously provides the money to pay the temple tax (in effect “supporting His own execution”) and, in the process, teaches not only that Christians might curtail their freedom to avoid offending others outside the community but perhaps also that we are sons of a kingdom that is not of this world (17:24-27; some take the payment of the Temple tax as part of the fourth discourse, which we discuss next, beginning with teaching about offending those inside the community).

As mentioned, chapter 18 gives the so-called fourth discourse, what a different commentator titles, “Life in the Community of the Kingdom”. In it, Jesus teaches about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (18:1-11), tells the parable of the lost sheep (18:12-14), teaches how Christian’s should reconcile with each other (18:15-20), and what will happen if they don’t (18:21-35). The teaching about the greatest in heaven surely has implications for Baptismal practice (the Name of 18:5!), and we do well to recall how Israel included children as young as 8 days old in the entry rite and fed children of all ages in the sacred meal (confer the children in the miraculous feedings told in the Gospel accounts). In reading these verses, I reflected on my own experience of trusting and unpretentious children being much more willing to accept Jesus’ teaching than adults. The cutting off of “members” in 18:7-9 may refer to excommunication (see also below). Matthew 18:10, along with passages such as Acts 12:15, is usually a “proof text” for the teaching that we all have guardian angels, although Lutheran theologians have not been willing to say that is definitely true, granting instead that believers have many good angels watching over them. With imagery of sheep and shepherd you probably recognize by now, the parable of the lost sheep shows “God’s love for those lost from the community” (the parable recalls those in Matthew 13:44-46 who went to great lengths to get what they wanted, but instead of redemption in this case we have restoration). The parable reminded me of a song I sang in one of the first church choirs I sang in; I think it was a variation of this song (if you follow that link you might notice the lovely picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and, if the lamb He’s carrying was a straying sheep, you might note that He hasn’t broken its legs and put it over His shoulder, as the “story” usually goes). The humility of the little ones who are greatest in the Kingdom and are not to be looked down upon but sought out when they wander is related to the teaching about reconciliation and forgiveness that follows. Matthew 18:15-20 is usually called something like “Church discipline”, but it really lays out how Christians are to reconcile. The sin in view is that which a brother or sister in Christ commits against a fellow brother or sister in Christ. Such is ideally to be resolved privately, without involving more people than already know about the sin. If the brother or sister will not repent at first, nor after a second confrontation with multiple witnesses (as required already in the Old Testament), nor after the Church has been made aware, then the person is not to be treated as a brother or sister in Christ but as a pagan. Note the same language in 18:18 as in 16:19, where the authority is connected with talk of the “keys” to heaven and hell. The pastor is entrusted with the Office of the Keys (not only Peter but also the other apostles and their successors were addressed by the plural “you”), and thus he is entrusted with the exercise of the keys. The pastor bans the person from the Sacrament (also called excommunication), and the congregation is to say “Amen” to that exercise of the binding key. Such a ban or cutting off from the communion of the Church is always with a view towards leading the person to realize the severity of their scandalous sin or impenitence and return with repentance and faith (see the preceding and following verses!). In contrast to those who think that any two people coming together can constitute “church”, Dr. Luther in his teaching about individual confession and absolution (the exercise of the loosing key) referred to Matthew 18:20’s “two”: pastor and penitent (see Smalcald Articles III:iv, Tappert, 310—for more on the Lutheran Confessions, click here). The so-called parable of the unmerciful servant, which we just heard as the Gospel reading on the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, drives home the point that as we are forgiven by God of an insurmountable debt through faith in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again to save us from our sins, so we should forgive one another, a point also made in the first discourse with its teaching about prayer (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:33 AM

November 24, 2006

Mt 15-16

(This post may be helpful as you reread Psalm 144.)

Between the third and fourth discourses, Matthew 15-16 tells of Jesus’s ministry in the area of the Sea of Galilee’s eastern shore, teaching about clean and unclean (15:1-20); in the area of Phoenicia, healing a woman’s daughter (15:21-28); in the area of the Decapolis, feeding 4,000 and teaching about signs and the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ yeast (15:29-16:12); and in the area of Caesarea Philippi, asking for confessions and predicting His death and resurrection (16:13-17:20, although today we read only through the end of chapter 16). Matthew reports Jesus’ finding Isaiah 29:13 fulfilled by the Pharisees and scribes and teaching that the things of the heart make someone unclean and not the food he or she eats. Then, Matthew tells how Jesus healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter and praised the woman’s faith. Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000 comes next in this account, and we again note Jesus’ compassion for those people and recall how He feeds us in the Sacrament of the Altar. Matthew had previously told of Jesus’ giving the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40), but in 16:1-4 we note how Jesus directly criticizes the Jewish leaders for not seeing the Kingdom of Heaven directly in front of them. Matthew tells how Jesus figuratively warned the disciples against the Jewish leaders’ influence, but the disciples didn’t understand—they thought Jesus was concerned about food, forgetting that He could provide for their needs. Matthew next reports Jesus’s asking the disciples who people and they themselves say He is, and we see the importance of our confessing Who Jesus is, too. We note that God reveals Who Jesus is and creates faith in us, and we note that Christ builds His Church on the confession of Who Jesus is. That the gates of hell do not prevail against the Church means that the Church prevails against not only the gates but all of hell. The Office of the Keys is given for the benefit of the Church, but the exercise of the keys is entrusted to the apostles and their successors. Finally, Matthew tells how Peter, who had just made such a bold confession of faith, did not want Jesus to die and rise. Confessing faith in Jesus also means following Him on the way of the cross, where losing one’s life is saving it.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 23, 2006

Ps 143 / Mt 13-14 / Thanksgiving

Psalm 143 is appointed to read again today, and the previous post on it is here. I make just a couple more comments in what follows. Note in verse 6 the gesture of prayer that pastors sometimes use in the Divine Service when praying on behalf of the assembled congregation. In verse 11, note the mention of the Lord’s “Name”, and recall that God puts it on us in Holy Baptism. Baptism is the objective sign that we have from God that His promises apply to us, and we can always point to our Baptisms and know that no matter what doubts we have God remains faithful to us for His “Name’s sake”.

Matthew 13-14 today presents to us Jesus’ third discourse (12:46-13:53) and the account of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth (13:53-58), John’s beheading (14:1-12), Jesus’ feeding 5,000 (14:13-21), and Jesus’ walking on water (14:22-36). The second discourse begins with and ends before passages dealing with Jesus’ “family”, and we remember from the second discourse that normal family ties are set behind our relationship to Jesus and the new-kinship ties He brings about: the emphasis is on those who listen to and do the Father’s will. The discourse consists of seven linked parables that reveal mysteries (that is, “the Gospel” or possibly even “the Sacraments”) from the beginning of faith to the final judgment. We who listen are supposed to find ourselves in these parables, hearing law and Gospel, even though we may not have the same kinds of experiences as Jesus’ original hearers had that made the parables very familiar. (Note that two of the parables included explanations, perhaps to guarantee that they were properly understood and to provide examples for interpreting the others.)

The so-called parable of the sower (13:1-9, 18-23) is perhaps better called the parable of the soils and illustrates why some reject the Good News. In between the parable and its explanation, Jesus explains why He taught in parables (13:11-17), in keeping with Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 6:9-10; see also 13:34-35 and Psalm 78:2), but we must not think that God does not want everyone to be saved. Those who are not saved have hardened their hearts, while God has opened the hearts of those who are saved—He teaches them through the parables. The parable of the wheat and the tares (13:24-30, 36-43) pictures well how there are some in the church as it gathers around Word and Sacrament who appear to be believers but in fact are not. The parable of the mustard seed (13:31-32) tells how something that starts small can grow bigger, but we must not think that the Church in this world will appear to be so glorious; rather, the Church of all times and all places with all believers will indeed be something large that came from something small. The parable of the yeast (13:33), a rare time in the Bible when yeast is regarded as something positive, shows how the kingdom spreads through a person’s life or through the world by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word. (The three measures of yeast with enough flour reportedly would feed a banquet of people, and so we think also of the miraculous feedings of our Lord and that to which they point, the Lord’s Supper, where, as one commentator puts it, “Jesus is the very bread that is still multiplied for the multitudes”.) The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (13:44-46) are usually understood as indicating what we should do in order to obtain Jesus and salvation (as here), but just in hearing that you may recognize how wrong that seems, not to mention considering what a change that would be in comparison to the other parables in the set of seven. Better may be understanding Jesus to be the Man and the Merchant Who does what is necessary to “redeem” us. (Parables in general are to be interpreted in light of God’s redemptive action in Jesus Christ.) The parable of the dragnet (13:47-53, although perhaps 52-53 ought to be treated separately), like that of the wheat and the tares, shows how in this world the Church as it appears to us takes up good and bad fish, but there will be a sorting at the end of the age.

Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (13:53-58) reminds us of how we tend not to think well of those we know when, but we also see how the people in Nazareth were limited by what they thought they knew about such things as who Jesus’ father was. We have read of John the Baptizer’s death before in Mark’s more complete account (6:17-29; see also Luke 3:19-20). The narrative of the feeding of the 5,000 (14:13-21) is of course to be taken literally, but we, like Matthew’s original catechumens, must let it point us to the greater feeding that takes place in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus’ walking on water (14:22-36) ultimately brings forth strong confessions of faith from those in the boat, but we also do well to note both Peter’s call to the Lord to save him and Jesus’ response of bringing Peter into the boat, which can be a picture of the Church.

Our national day of Thanksgiving is essentially a secular holiday, although it surely was intended as a holy-day to give thanks to God. We do well to remember Dr. Luther’s teaching about the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean? God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

What is meant by daily bread? Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

So its fitting that today we gather in God’s house to give thanks to Him and to pray as follows.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, Whose mercies are new unto us every morning and Who, though we have in no wise deserved Thy goodness, dost abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul, give us, we pray Thee, Thy Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge Thy merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Thy benefits, and serve Thee in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and forever. Amen. (TLH, p.85)

God bless your Thanksgiving Day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:03 AM

November 22, 2006

Ps 142 / Mt 11-12

As I today re-read Psalm 142 and its previous post, I wondered about verse 7 and whether someone might think the “prison” there (Hebrew macger), aside from the mentioned literal and figurative meanings, also could mean our bodies as a “prison”. That concern was increased when I also noticed that the NIV had rendered “Set me free from my prison” where others had “Bring my soul out of prison” (KJV, ASV, NASB). In terms of the NIV’s rendering, I think it is probably too loose, since the Hebrew verb yatsa doesn’t really have the sense of “liberate” and in this case the focus is on God’s deliverance. The object of God’s deliverance, the Hebrew noun nephesh, can mean “soul” or the person as a whole, so that part of the NIV’s rendering is not necessarily wrong. The “prison” can be in the sense of spiritual bondage in Psalm 142:7, as in Isaiah 42:7 (perhaps compare Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18), but we are not those who think the soul is imprisoned in the body, as if the soul were pure or good and the body impure or evil. Rather, the soul and body God created perfect were both corrupted by original sin; the souls of believers in Christ will be purged of all evil at death, and, after the Last Day, the purged souls will be reunited with the resurrected and glorified bodies for eternity together with the Lord.

Essentially between the second and third discourses, Matthew 11-12 tells of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. In chapter 11, we hear Jesus discuss John the Baptizer after some of John’s disciples come to Him (11:1-19), speak woes on cities that did not repent (11:20-24), and offer rest to the weary (11:25-30). In chapter 12, Jesus both speaks of Himself as and acts as Lord of the Sabbath (12:1-14); Matthew points out how Jesus fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah’s (12:15-21); Jesus addresses the Pharisees’ allegation that He was in league with Satan (12:22-37); and Jesus speaks of the sign of Jonah (12:38-43). (Matthew 12:46-50 is regarded by some as more connected with the third discourse and will be addressed tomorrow.)

At the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus Himself describes John the Baptizer as fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy of the messenger coming before the Messiah, the so-called “second Elijah” (Matthew 11:10; Malachi 3:1). Again note in 11:13 the reference to the whole of the Old Testament and the placement of John on this side of it. The Jews would neither mourn with John or feast with the Lord (11:17-19). The criticism in 11:20-24 of those who would not repent thus seems to follow logically. Jesus’ own city of Capernaum where many miracles had been performed did not repent and would be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah at the Last Day. Jesus is not all judgment, of course, and those who do humbly repent by God’s grace and revelation know both Father and Son and so find rest (11:25-30).

That the stipulations of the law the Pharisees understood were not the point of the law is made clear by Jesus at the beginning of chapter 12 (1-8). The Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ healing the man with a shriveled hand is quite striking (12:9-14); how does healing someone deserve death? In 12:15-21, Jesus’ healing many fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, the words of which offer great comfort to us when we doubt and wonder if we really believe. The healing of the blind and mute demon-possessed man is mentioned really in passing to the greater teaching of our Lord that follows (12:22-37). Jesus says Satan driving out His own demons would not make sense, and He adds that the Pharisees’ own followers exorcised demons, and, since surely they were not in league with Satan, then they were proof that Jesus was not, either. Jesus is the stronger man who “robs” the strong man, Satan—which illustration is commonly connected with Jesus’ descent into hell in victory, winning our release from the devil. Since the Pharisees were attributing God’s work to the devil, Jesus speaks of how blasphemy is unforgivable—because, in so blaspheming, the very only way of salvation, faith in Jesus Christ, is rejected. Such works of the Pharisees were to be expected, however, since they rejected Jesus and were not being transformed by the Holy Spirit. The leaders of the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus, ignoring all the ones He had already given, and so Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection after three days as the sign they will get, likening it to Jonah’s three days and nights in the huge fish. Jesus is greater than Jonah and Solomon, but unless He enters the void created by the casting out of evil spirits the person from whom those spirits are cast out will end up worse off.

Lots to consider today, but a common theme throughout is repenting of our sins and humbly receiving salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Who died and rose again as He promised. In Him we rejoice and find rest now and for eternity.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:27 AM

November 21, 2006

Mt 9-10 / Tidbits

(Psalm 141 is appointed to be read again today; my previous post on it is here.)

Along with Matthew’s telling of his call, Matthew 9-10 first gives us the last of our Lord’s ten healing miracles “reversing”, as it were for Matthew, the ten plagues in Egypt, and then the pair of chapters gives us essentially all of Jesus’ second discourse (11:1 is its conclusion, but we officially don’t read that until tomorrow). On the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity I preached on Matthew 9:1-8, and I just barely begin to share the insights of the preparatory text study in this forum. Jesus shows with the healing of the paralytic that He truly has the authority to forgive sins, which authority He gives to the apostles and their successors (see the reaction of the crowds in 9:8 and the second discourse we will discuss below, for example 10:1). We are probably to understand Jesus’s rhetorical question in 9:5 either as both being equally easy for God or as forgiving being easier because it doesn’t require visible proof such as the healing does. There is sharp contrast between the faith of the paralytic and those bringing him to Jesus and the charge of the scribes that Jesus was blaspheming. We also notice the crowd’s response of faith: reverent fear of and praise to God. In the call of Matthew narrated in 9:9-13, we note our Lord’s words, “Follow Me”, which can be applied to all of us in the sense that the Holy Spirit calls us to faith or limited to the sense in which Matthew was called to be an apostle. (We will see in the second discourse that some teaching there is to be applied to the whole community and other teaching limited in application to the apostles, and in some cases their successors.) The table fellowship with sinners is significant in that it points to the Lord’s Supper, and the catechumen or hearer of the Gospel knows his or her own works avail nothing. Somewhat related, at least at the literal level, is Matthew 9:14-17. Jesus clearly is the Bridegroom, Whose removal will cause fasting. Verses 16-17 seem to extend the thought from verses 14-15 that Jesus brings a new time that transforms the old (note well 9:17 in view of 5:17; see also here). The sixth and seventh miracles are the healing of a ruler named Jairus’ daughter and a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. These two healing are interestingly paired together. The eighth and ninth miracles are the healing of the two blind men calling out to Jesus by His Messianic title, ironically able to perceive more without their eyes than many who saw with their eyes but failed to believe. The tenth miracle is the healing of a demon-possessed man, which prompts the Pharisees to blaspheme by attributing God’s work to the devil (an allegation that gets more attention later both in 10:25 and in chapter 12).

The second discourse essentially begins in 9:35 (one of Matthew’s summaries of Jesus’ ministry) and verses following, as Jesus has compassion on the crowds because they lacked shepherds (or at least faithful ones, who didn’t think Jesus’ work was that of the devil), tells His followers to pray for harvest workers (“Thy kingdom come”), and then more or less answers that prayer by sending out twelve such shepherds and workers, after teaching about apostolic authority and martyrdom. The teaching of the apostles clearly comes from Jesus Himself (see, for example, 11:1, where the word diatasso, "commanding", has the sense of preparing troops for battle). That Jesus instructed the apostles carries over to the teaching being given the catechumen/hearer of St. Matthew’s account: God’s Word about Christ guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, intentionally Trinitarian. Notice how easily the whole passion history is brought to mind with the simple reference to Judas and his betrayal of the Lord in 10:4. The sheep of 9:36 are still in view in 10:6 (and, in a different way, in 10:16), and the content of the preaching the sheep are to hear is no different in 10:7 than it was in 3:2 and 4:17. As with Jesus, so the authoritative teaching is to be demonstrated with miracles by the apostles (those “authoritatively sent”). Don’t take 10:11-12 as some “door to door” evangelism program, but do think of “peace” as perhaps shorthand for a whole liturgy conducted in such early house churches. The teaching and miracles, note well, do not bring about mass conversions and “peace on earth”, but rejection, opposition, and divisions even in families (10:21, 35-37 [note the words of Micah 7:6] and see how Jesus rejected His own "family" in 12:46-50), as they remain loyal or become disloyal to their spiritual leaders. The persecution mentioned in 10:23 of course recalls that from the previous discourse (5:10-12, if not also that Jesus experienced as a child, told in the account’s opening narratives), but is more detailed in this discourse (10:17-18), calling to mind that which Jesus and later the apostles themselves would have undergone by the time of the Gospel account’s hearing. The persecution will bring about Spirit-inspired confessions of the faith (10:19-20, which perhaps also hint at the inspiration of Scripture and relate to Peter’s confession coming in 16:16), even at the risk of temporal death, but the alternative is eternal destruction (10:28, 32-33). The hearers of the Gospel are to take up their crosses (10:38-39), just as Jesus did, even though we can never completely accomplish it as He did for us.

Tidbits today are all reader-submitted, so thanks to them! Someone sent this link to an opinion piece suggesting conservative religious leaders should admit they are wrong about homosexuality, but it doesn’t quite get the story right. ... This reader-sent link tells of some so-called Lutherans overlooking more theological disagreements in the name of a unity façade. ... And a reader sent this link to a follow-up on a previous tidbit that was for the birds.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:21 AM

November 20, 2006

Ps 140 / Mt 7-8

Today we re-read Psalm 140. The four stanzas I refer to in the previous post on this psalm in three of the four cases end with “Selah”, which is thought to be a technical musical term showing where there is to be a pause (or possibly a crescendo); the other stanza ends with verse 11, before the two-verse conclusion. I’m not sure why, but this time reading through my attention was drawn to verse 10 and its “burning coals”. In verse 10, there is just one word in the Hebrew, gechel, which variously means “coal”, “burning coal”, “coals of fire”, and “hot coals”; these wood “coals” can be figurative of lightning (Psalm 18:9), the last heir of a dying house (2 Samuel 14:7), strife (Proverbs 26:21), shame (Proverbs 25:22; with Proverbs 25:21-22 see Romans 12:20), and, as in this psalm, Divine judgment. (For a more literal and liturgical use of the word and what it represents, compare Leviticus 16:12 where “coal” is specified as “burning”.) The image brought to mind in Psalm 140:10 seems to be that of the fire and brimstone that rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah (as in Psalm 11:6). Coupled with the burning coals in verse 10 are fire and water (such as that suggested by the “pits”), which are thought to be unavoidable disasters. My study Bible’s note says, “the fire of God’s judgment … reaches even into the realm of the dead”, which is true, but I think that’s not the point the psalmist is trying to make—he wants temporal and eternal judgment for his enemies. As God’s enemies, such temporal and eternal fiery judgment is what we by nature deserve, if we do not repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

Matthew 7-8 today finishes Jesus’ first discourse (chapter 7) and begins a collection of miracles between the first and second discourses (8:1-9:34, although today we only read through chapter 8). Chapter 7 begins with some of the most misquoted verses of the New Testament (7:1-6). The “proverb” in 7:2 apparently refers to the use of the same measure being used for buying and selling. The log in one’s own eye can be seen by everyone except the one with it in his or her eye, while the speck in someone else’s eye cannot be seen from a distance; Jesus is calling us to examine ourselves and to repent. Jesus does not say never to judge, but He speaks against judging hypocritically, for in this same context He speaks of the necessary separation between that which is holy and that which is profane (verse 6). Thus, referring to not giving the “holy things” to dogs and to casting “pearls before swine” should not just bring to our minds a comic strip with that title, but, as for the church fathers, the expression can also refer to the practice of closed communion. The Church, especially through her faithful stewards of the Sacraments, has a role to play in examining and admitting communicants; admission is not up to the communicant alone. (Without questioning the practice of closed communion itself, at least one respected commentator questions the church fathers’ understanding closed communion as the point in this place. That commentator instead sees the key to interpretation in the “pearl” as referring to “the holy thing” or “the holy Christian church” and takes the passage as cautioning against judging or excluding members and advocating for the forgiveness Jesus called for in 6:15.) Asking, seeking, and knocking are in a sense the focus of 7:7-12 (possibly also verses 12-14, although one commentator sees just verses 7-12 as pertaining to the certainty of God’s answering prayer). We do well to remember that in terms of faith we cannot by our own reason or strength ask, seek, knock, or believe in Jesus Christ our Lord apart from the Holy Spirit. God our Heavenly Father freely gives us faith, as even earthly fathers know how to give gifts to their children (7:9-11, where bread and fish seem hardly arbitrary but likely intended to bring to mind the feeding miracles that themselves anticipate the Sacrament). Note how the so-called “Golden Rule” sums up the Old Testament teaching (7:12), arguably of not just the law but also the Gospel, for God has done good to all and expects us to do the same. Any false hope of widespread conversion of our pagan society should be put to rest by 7:13-14, which recalls Psalm 1 and is said to give rise to the reference of Christianity as “the Way”, although clearly the concept goes further back. People’s external deeds are to indicate their internal faith, especially in the case of prophets (7:15-20); note the shepherd and sheep imagery to refer to the pastor and the believers. Appearances can be deceiving, and not everyone who thinks they believe or are doing good works actually will be saved (7:21-23, what has been called “the Littlest Apocalypse”). The Sermon concludes with “the only complete parable” in the sermon, the wise man who built his house upon the rock (7:24-27). We may remember the Sunday School song based on these verses (although these aren’t quite the lyrics I learned, and the accompaniment didn’t sound like this when I sang it), but I don’t think I was told that the builders are teachers and the structures “churches”, which are what one commentator suggests. That suggestion is certainly in keeping with Matthew 16:15-18, where the Greek word for “build” includes the word for “house” and the “rock” on which the Church is built is the confession that Jesus is the Christ. As that commentator concludes, given the different outcomes for the different structures, “it does matter to which church one belongs.” Finally, note in 7:28-29 how the people respond to Jesus’ teaching.

At least one commentator finds Jesus’ five discourses roughly equivalent to the five books of Moses and Jesus’ “ten” miracles in chapters 8-9 roughly reversing the ten plagues in Egpyt. All of the miracles go to show Who Jesus is and the authority He and His teaching have. The first miracle (8:1-3) raises the issue of the so-called “Messianic secret”, which we have discussed before (for example here). The comments at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:28-29) raise the question of authority, which is a recurring theme in the chapters that follow, such as in the second miracle (8:5-13). The third miracle takes place at Peter’s house, where Jesus is thought to have lived while in Capernaum, and note Matthew’s reference to Isaiah 53:4 in connection with the healing. Before the next miracle St. Matthew records Jesus’ teaching about the cost of being a disciple (8:18-22). The fourth and fifth miracles are the healing of two men possessed with demons; be sure to note the demons’ confession of Jesus as the Son of God and their submission to His authority. What distinguishes us from them? (See James 2:19 for a hint.)

In Church Sunday morning I was pleased with the response from the congregation to the announcement that we will be publishing monthly booklets with daily comments on the readings (that is, material from this present Biblog cycle, or, in other words, much of what you enjoyed online this past year). I will still welcome both your comments to encourage others to participate with us and your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan online. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 19, 2006

Ps 139 / Mt 5-6 / Tidbits

Psalm 139 is appointed to read again today, and my previous post on it is here. Today I reflected on how we sometimes think that no one knows about the sins we commit without anyone around. Magazines that shouldn’t be read may be discreetly purchased from someone, but probably someone who doesn’t know us. Better, we might think, may be viewing pages on the internet that we shouldn’t, but even there computers track our visits and paid fees appear on bank records, even if obscurely or innocently named. If not this sin, there are others. We so fool ourselves into thinking that no one knows our sin that we are mortified at the possibility of confessing it to a pastor as God’s representative. You see, we so fool ourselves into thinking that no one knows our sin that we may think even God does not know it, when in fact He does. God has searched us and knows us, when we sit and rise, our thoughts from afar, our going out and lying down—all our ways. We cannot flee from His Spirit or hide in the darkness. (Remember the man and the woman in the garden as told in Genesis 3:8-10?) Instead of fleeing from Him, we should flee to Him, in sorrow over our sin and with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin. Confessing sin to a pastor on our own reminds us that the sin is known and also gives us the opportunity to hear absolution on our own. In such confession and absolution we vow to try to do better, and we should try to do better, trusting that His Spirit will help us. But, we should not despair when, even then, we fail. Our sinful flesh will cling to us in this life until the end, but when we meet our flesh again it will be purged and renewed and, by faith in Jesus Christ, we, soul and body, will eventually enjoy eternity with Him. Such are the days ordained for those who believe and the value of God’s plans concerning us!

Reading Matthew 5-6 today we begin Jesus’ first discourse in Matthew’s account (we will have to wait until tomorrow to finish it, however). The so-called Sermon on the Mount “provides the basis of the Christian faith for catechumens” and so, as catechesis, was the first step to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The sermon is not fully understood until the catechumens and we hear the rest of the discourses and the narrative about our Lord’s Passion.

The Sermon begins with what are called the Beatitudes (5:3-12), after the Latin word for “blessed”. (“Happy” in these verses, as in the New Life Version and others, is not a good translation.) These verses, which we just heard as the Gospel reading on All Saints’ Day, may speak words of law to us, to the extent that they do not describe us as they should; or these verses may speak words of Gospel to us, to the extent they do describe us or point us to Jesus Who perfectly fulfills them (either way the Gospel comforts us). Ultimately, how the words speak to us is more the Holy Spirit’s doing. Verses 13-16 seem to follow more out of 1-12 than anticipate 17 and verses following; we are to live as salt to flavor and as light to illuminate the earth, perhaps recalling Old Testament Temple practices. Jesus’s coming did not abolish the Old Testament (Law and Prophets), but He fulfilled it (what we have noted is an especially Matthean theme); the Old Testament can only be understood with Jesus as its content. Only clothed in His righteousness does “ours” exceed that of the Pharisees and qualify us for entrance to the Kingdom. Some aspects of the ceremonial law fell by the wayside, but the moral law continues, as Jesus immediately makes clear, sharpening the teaching of the 5th, 6th, 8th, 7th, and all the commandments. Note the “You have heard that it was said” or “It has been said” (or their equivalents) in 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43. Hate or name calling is equal to murder. Looking at a another person lustfully is committing adultery. Swearing is false witness. Seeking retribution is stealing. In short, any failure to love anyone else—neighbor or enemy, brother or sister in Christ or pagan—is to not be a child of God. Stop and think about it! I’m guilty as charged, are you? We rightly understand 5:23-24 to also speak of being reconciled with people before receiving the Sacrament of the Altar (confer the liturgical practice of the kiss of peace), and we see in these verses evidence also of God’s Gospel that reconciles us with Him. Although there have been those who have taken 5:29-30 literally, Jesus is most certainly using a bit of an exaggeration to make His point. Most understand 5:32 (and the roughly equivalent 19:9) to allow at least divorce, if not also remarriage, in cases of adultery (there are some who apply the so-called exception only to the “divorce” and not to the second marriage), but there is significant Biblical and historical evidence to understand the verse to mean not “except for” but “even in the case of” (see, for example, the absolute teachings in Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18). We usually allow that oaths taken with God’s help at the request of the government are an exception to Jesus’ teaching here about oaths (as Jesus did before the high priest in Matthew 26:63-64), provided they are fulfilled with the truth. I think it is hard to hear 5:48 and not think of such passages as Leviticus 19:2 (confer 1 Peter 1:16).

The Sermon continues in chapter 6, beginning , it is said, with regulations for the conduct of the liturgical service during which the Gospel account itself would be read. In 6:1-4, Jesus tells us that our good works are not to be done to attract attention. In 6:5-15, Jesus teaches us how to pray and to forgive in order to be forgiven (not that God’s forgiveness comes as a result of our forgiving our neighbors, but our not forgiving our neighbors can be a barrier to God’s forgiveness coming). The nature of the discourses in Matthew is such that this topic will come up again and be explained in greater detail (as we recently heard on the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity, when Matthew 18:23-35 was the Gospel reading in the Divine Service). Similarly, each time we revisit the Sermon we “reach a more complete understanding of its message”. The same idea of praying in secret carries over to fasting in 6:16-18. The accumulation of material goods without the proper relationship to God is condemned in 6:19-24, and the right relationship to God in faith with contentment and not worry is described in 6:25-34, what apparently is sometimes called “The Little Sermon within the Sermon”. Where much of what we read today may well strike us as law, we find in 6:26’s invitation to trust God to care for us, His most significant creatures, evidence that the predominant theme of the sermon is Gospel. Being called those of “little faith” is said by at least one commentator to be “encouragement to those whose faith is poised to accomplish great things”.

Tidbits number just three again today. Who would have thought that the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls could be tied to a latrine. ... Can you say “Purpose-driven AIDS test”? Two presidential hopefuls apparently can. ... And, if you go to Washington, D.C. for the Life March in January you apparently can get free lodging!

The beginning of our second year following the Daily Lectionary is less than two weeks away, and I would appreciate both your thoughts that might be shared to encourage others to read with us and your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan. God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 18, 2006

Ps 138 / Mt 3-4 / Folos

Reading Psalm 138 today, I was especially struck by verse 7. (My previous comments, more on the psalm as a whole, are here.) Verse 7, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble” (KJV), echoes Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (KJV). We are surrounded and constantly troubled by our enemies, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Yet, the Lord “revives” (KJV, ASV, NASB) or “preserves” (NIV) our lives, almost as if He is holding off the enemies with the kingdom of His left hand, the state, and saving us with the Kingdom of His right hand, the Church. We are not revived or preserved in some way that we cannot perceive, but we are rescued and revived through Word and Sacrament. Dr. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are at every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as possible” (LC V:82, Tappert, 456). By God’s grace and mercy we have such an opportunity this Sunday in the 10:30 service. See you there?

Matthew 3-4 today tells us of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry leading up to the first discourse. In 3:1-12 we hear of Jesus’ forerunner, in 3:13-17 of His Baptism, in 4:1-11 of His temptation, and in 4:12-25 of the beginning of His ministry in Galilee. The birth of the forerunner, John the Baptizer, is told in Luke 1:5-80; Matthew is content to tell of John’s arrival, message, and fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. (What a blessing to have read so many prophecies of the forerunner just recently.) John is regarded as the last Old Testament prophet, but he made use of a New Testament sacrament. Lutherans are often thought to not teach about good works, but such thoughts do miss part of our teaching. The kind of fruits of repentance to which John refers in 3:8 are a part of our teaching. We do not think for a moment that good works save us, but we also do not believe faith can exist without good works (trees not producing good works are set Ablaze!). Jesus was baptized by John, thereby connecting Him with our sins and setting apart Baptism as a holy washing of regeneration. The Triune God revealed Himself at the Baptism, with the Son in the water, the Father speaking from heaven, and the Spirit descending like a dove. Fresh from His Baptism, Jesus was tempted in the desert, just as we are instantly tempted to depart from the faith after our Baptisms. Jesus resists the devil with the Word of God, as should we. As Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee, He fulfills more prophecy, Matthew tells us, and we note that Jesus’ message was essentially the same as John’s (compare 3:2 and 4:17). Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, and then He calls James and John, proceeding to preach and heal. Tomorrow, the first discourse!

Three of my comments on yesterday’s reading of Matthew 1-2 prompted reader email that is the basis for today’s Biblog folos. First, on Matthew 1:25 I commented that Mary’s union with Joseph after Jesus was born “is really beyond the evangelist’s concern”, to which a reader added, “and could well be beyond ours also.” I’d agree more strongly if the Lutheran Confessions did not speak both of Jesus exiting His mother’s womb by using His Divine attributes and thereby leaving her virginity intact and of Mary as “always” a virgin. (See more here.)

Second, in regards to Matthew 2:11 and 16, I commented that Jesus was likely older than a baby when the Magi found Him, partly because Herod kills all the boys two and under. A reader responded as follows:

Jesus’ age at the time of the flight to Egypt was not necessarily two years or anything near it. Herod strikes me as the sort who overdid things! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were “in a house” when the Magi came. I should think that would have happened as soon as the crowd cleared out. They went up to the temple at 40 days. Mary was probably restricted (ritually and physically) in her activities until that time. Beyond that, I don’t see any clear indication. Have I missed it? (There is the mundane matter of food and such, although I suppose Joseph could have secured temporary work.)

Christmas programs and crèches die hard! The Magi’s time for travel and the “house” are the obvious reasons in the English translations, but even the English translations make a difference between the “babe” (KJV, ASV; “baby” NIV, NASB) in Luke 2:16 and the “young child” (KJV, ASV; “child” NIV, NASB) in Matthew 2:9, 11, and 13. In Luke the Greek work is brephos, and in Matthew the Greek word is paidion; while there can be some overlap between the two words, usually the first means the unborn child or baby, while the second refers more to little children. To be sure, Herod was ruthless, but the text itself makes clear that Herod based the “two and under” on the words of the Magi. (Incidentally, estimates on the number of boys killed ranges from 10 to 144,000, but, since the historian Josephus details other atrocities of Herod and does not mention this slaughter, the lower numbers are thought to be more likely.) One must be careful in “harmonizing” the Gospel accounts, for the account in Luke 2 of the purification has Mary and Joseph return to Galilee, omitting the details of the Magi, the slaughter, and the flight to Egypt. There is no reason, however, that after the purification of Mary the family could not have returned from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, where the Magi found them and from where they left for Egypt. I would imagine that Joseph could have found temporary work while in Bethlehem, but there may also have been family in the area (it was their hometown), who might not have had room for them at the time of the census and birth.

Third, on Matthew 2:16-18, I commented the Bethlehem-area boys were perhaps not as innocent or martyr-like as their feast day on the 28th of December suggests (a feast day retained, not so incidentally, by The Lutheran Hymnal), and a reader seemed to suggest that the children simply fulfilled prophecy, which was more than someone else the reader had read recently was willing to admit, seemingly rejecting the notion that prophecy could have an immediate and more distant fulfillment.

Please share both your thoughts that might encourage others to participate in this daily Bible reading and your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan. God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 17, 2006

Ps 137 / Mt 1-2 / Folo / Tidbits

By an anonymous inspired author, Psalm 137, which we read again today and on which you can find the previous post here, apparently is from a time after the exile, looking back to the time of the exile. The exiles did not give up the Psalms altogether, however, for they even added new psalms during the exile. But, the exiles did stop singing the psalms, or at least singing them publicly for the purpose of entertaining the Babylonians. Although the exiles were silent at that time, they are silent no more. The psalm itself is said to be especially full of sounds. We do well to remember that our deliverance from sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is also a great reason to burst into song. A distinction between sacred and secular songs is evident in the psalm, but we do not exclude those of the world from hearing our sacred songs in the Divine Service, for the hymns confess the faith and are vehicles for teaching it.

Reading Matthew 1-2 today returns us to the New Testament to finish out our year of Bible reading. As you probably know, there are a few brief comments about the book in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). Matthew, also called Levi (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), was a former tax collector who became one of the 12 apostles—a sinner called as he himself narrates in 9:9-13. Although he nowhere identifies himself as the author, the Church unanimously understood this Gospel account as his. There is much speculation about which Gospel account came first and whether one author relied on another, but, when one holds to Divine verbal inspiration, such questions seem to be of far less interest. The four accounts share a consistent witness to Jesus Christ and yet are unique in ways befitting God’s recording their words through individual human beings. St. Matthew’s account emphasizes the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, as He calls Himself, drawing on Daniel 7. And, Matthew emphasizes that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is available to all, which universal availability is not something new in Matthew but certainly something that had been forgotten by the Jews of Jesus’ day. The account is generally thought to be Jewish in nature, which may reflect either Matthew’s own background and/or its being written in Israel, possibly also its primary intention as catechesis or instruction for Jews converting to faith in the Messiah Who alone can save them. Supporting such ideas about the account’s Jewishness are the account’s emphasizing the fulfillment of the Old Testament (Matthew has more Old Testament quotations and allusions than any other New Testament author), the genealogy’s tracing Jesus’s line from Abraham, Jewish customs’ not being explained, his using certain Jewish terms, and his frequently identifying Jesus as the “Son of David”. Still, as noted above, the inclusion of Gentiles in the plan of salvation is especially clear, both at the beginning of the Gospel account and near its end, where the apostles are told to make disciples of all nations. Matthew may not follow a strict chronological sequence. Instead, the account is thought to consist primarily of five arranged discourses, or dialogues, with narrative of Jesus’s birth preceding them, some teaching coming in between, and the narrative of Jesus’s death and resurrection following them. The five discourses, addressed to the disciples and identified by their similar conclusions, are 5:1-7:28 (the Sermon on the Mount), 9:35-11:1 (apostolic authority and martyrdom), 12:46-13:53 (parables), 18:1-19:1 (matters of church practice), and 23:1-26:1 (end times).

Today Matthew 1-2 takes us through the birth and early years of Jesus’ life. We hear His genealogy in 1:1-17, of His birth in 1:18-2:12, and of His flight to Egypt in 2:13-23. The genealogy is introduced with Jesus referred to by the Messianic title “Son of David” (although compare the expression’s use in 1:20). The genealogy itself does not list an ancestor for every generation, and the term “father” is occasionally used with the sense of “forefather”. The genealogy mentions four women, whom you might recognize as from outside the Jewish lines, as “of blemished character”, or both. Fresh from the Minor Prophets we might especially notice Zerubbabel in verses 12-13; for the Jews, as now also for us, the mention of his name recalls the Messianic promises connected to him. Note also that, while the genealogy is that of Joseph, Joseph was “the husband of Mary” but not the “father” of Jesus. Christ is the Greek term equivalent to the Hebrew “Messiah” and, like that term, means “Anointed One”. In the narrative of Jesus’s birth, Jesus’s miraculous conception at first prompts Joseph to think about divorcing Mary, but the Lord communicates to Joseph through an angel in a dream, as He communicates in dreams five times in Matthew’s first two chapters (including once to the “wise men”), and Joseph takes Mary as his wife. Perhaps two other comments are needed on chapter 1. First, in 1:19 Joseph is mentioned as being “righteous” in connection with his thought of divorcing Mary, presumably for adultery. Joseph could have either tried to have had Mary executed or had a very public divorce, but he wanted to divorce her “quietly”. The “righteousness” is said to have been in showing Mary mercy, although that view is not without its problems; the “righteousness” cannot be in his own adherence to the law that would have had her executed, although by that time divorce for adultery is said to have been virtually mandatory and Joseph would be “law-abiding” if he did that. Second, in 1:25 Joseph is said not to have had union with Mary before Jesus’ birth, which is to emphasize the birth’s miraculousness. The verse does not necessarily imply that Joseph had union with Mary after Jesus was born, something that is really beyond the evangelist’s concern. Finally, note how the details of the birth itself are dramatically understated. (Did Matthew know of Luke’s account?)

Chapter 2 first tells how “wise men” or “Magi” came to worship Jesus, troubling Herod, whom Joseph and his family then fled until Herod died, which flight chapter 2 narrates second. Jesus was likely older than a baby when the Magi found Him in the house (see how old the children are whom Herod kills). Notice the roles of Micah’s prophecy and of the star in the Magi’s locating Jesus (Word and sacrament?). The number of Magi is usually taken as one per gift, although the text gives no indication of that. The gold is fitting for Jesus’ kingly office, the incense for His being God, and the myrrh points to His coming death. God directs Joseph to take his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s slaughter of Bethlehem’s boys. Though called “holy innocents” apparently since at least the fifth century, they are hardly “innocent” in a strict sense, although to be sure they had done nothing deserving the state’s sentence of death. They are also hardly the first “martyrs”, although they are the first to die in the New Testament on account of Jesus, even if their deaths didn’t accompany a witness of faith in Him (nor do we have evidence that they even had faith, which is something the Roman Catholics seem to admit in calling them martyrs by blood alone, as opposed to will, love, and blood). (This hymn for Holy Innocents’ Day, December 28, dates back to the fifth century but didn’t make it into the printed edition of Lutheran Service Book, instead LSB has one stanza of a 28-stanza saints hymn devoted to them, with marginally acceptable wording.) (On Matthew’s use of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15, see this post.) Matthew says that Hosea’s prophecy is fulfilled in the Lord’s directing Jesus to return from Egypt and that Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus taking up residence in Nazareth. Even in these early chapters where Jesus Himself isn’t doing much, we note God’s working through human means to bring about our salvation through “Immanuel”, “God with us” in Hebrew. We do well to follow the Magi in coming to the Lord’s house to worship Him and present, as this hymn puts it, “All our costliest treasures”.

The Biblog folo today comes after I asked the not-completely-rhetorical question in yesterday’s post about Malachi 1:12 and how the Lord’s Table might be defiled in our day. A reader emailed the following answer:

If the Sacrament were not instituted and administered as reverently as we are able. (I sometimes wonder about worrying whether it goes a minute or more “overtime”, as if we had any time that was not God’s in the first place!) When we in the pew cannot be bothered to attend and partake—and even worry if we might do it “too often”! When we do not take enough time for preparing ourselves. (I admit I am better at getting myself there than at allowing time for preparation; I know I need to prepare. I am so thankful that Grace encourages silence in the church! The silence does help when you want to read the pew booklet in preparation or the TLH prayers before communion.)

All are good insights, although I might remind us all that Dr. Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism, “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.’”

The same reader continued as follows:

We shy away from connecting our giving to God with what He gives to us, and, yet, [in Malachi] the table of the Lord was furnished with the gifts of the worshippers, and they were obviously not giving their best. The Table is still furnished with the gifts of the worshippers, though not so obviously, and our pastors are still supported as the priests were—not with meat, oil, and flour, but—with our modern day equivalents. If we give to God “what's left over” as these people seemed to be doing, perhaps that is why it seems hard to “make ends meet” at home and at church? We lose a lot of joy that way, too!


I think we can all try to test God more in our own sacrificial giving to see how abundantly He blesses us in return—not because we have earned His blessings, but because He promises His mercy and grace will overflow.

Tidbits just number three today. A reader sent in this link to the latest in evolution research. ... I may have linked to word of this scientific exhibit before, but it especially struck me this time because the latest U.S. Roman Catholic arguments against homosexuality (linked Wednesday) are similar to those here regarding species continuation. ... And, the once Scrooge-like Toys for Tots is reportedly going to accept those Jesus dolls after all. “God bless us every one!”

Please email your thoughts that might be used to encourage others to participate in the Daily Lectionary and your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 16, 2006

Ps 136 / Mal / Between the Testaments / Folo / Tidbits

Psalm 136 is such a great psalm of thanksgiving and praise, as the previous post about it indicates. Each initial half verse directs the thanks and praise to God or says something about Him or His deeds. In our self-centered ways, we might come away from the psalm thinking it doesn’t say anything about us, but if that were really true the Church would have stopped using it within a generation or so from such events as the delivery from the Amorites. We benefit from God’s creation and providential sustenance. As God delivered the Israelites of old from their enemies, He delivers us from sin, death, and the devil. As God gave the Israelites of old the Promised Land, He gives us the promised land of Heaven. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He forgives our sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ! And the worshipping community responds, His mercy endures forever!

Today is our day to read Malachi, the last of the so-called “minor prophets” or “Book of Twelve”. There is just a brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). Malachi’s name means “my messenger” or “my angel”, and some think that there was not an actual person named “Malachi” but that it was simply a title given to a collection of prophecy, perhaps even because the prophecy promises the sending of God’s messenger. While there isn’t any reference to the prophet himself or to his name outside of the book that bears his name, that there was an actual prophet is still more than likely the case. (Although, even deciding the book is “anonymous” does not deny Divine verbal inspiration.) Malachi prophesied to the exiles who had returned to Judah. Since the Temple was restored, the prophesying was after 516 BC, perhaps around 450 during the time that Nehemiah was back with the Persian king (see, for example the comments here and here; Malachi 1:8 does not seem to be referring to Nehemiah) and the priests had become corrupt and the increasingly discouraged people had ignored their offerings, broken the Sabbath, and intermarried with foreigners. Along those lines, Dr. Luther highlights how Malachi condemned the priests for being unfaithful and condemned the people for not making their offerings to support the Ministry of the Word. There are vivid images used in Malachi, at least one of them as earthy as some of Dr. Luther’s. Malachi has a bit of a question and answer dialogue form (note the often repeated “But you ask” [NIV] or “Yet ye say” [KJV, ASV] or “”But you say” [NASB]), and we might think not only of the resulting rabbinic method but also of the approach used in Dr. Luther’s and other catechisms. (One organizational scheme for the book of Malachi breaks it down into six sections, each consisting of a thesis, question or challenge of some sort, and a defense of the original statement; we will follow a slightly different organizational scheme.) Malachi was likely the last prophet before the 400 years of intertestamental (see below) silence (some think the prophet Joel or the prophet Obadiah may have been the last prophet), although Malachi was not the last book written in Old Testament times, for example Chronicles may have been written later. Malachi prophecies of the next prophet, John the Baptizer, the forerunner of the Messiah, called the second Elijah; Malachi also prophecies of the coming of the Lord Himself.

After its introductory comments (1:2-5), the book can be divided into two major parts: the rebuke of Israel’s priests and people (1:6-2:16) and the announcement of the Lord’s coming (2:17-4:6), which latter part also describes how His coming purifies priests and people and calls them to repent. (One oddity is that the text numbered 3:19-24 in the usually authoritative Hebrew text is numbered 4:1-6 in the Septuagint and other versions, such as our English ones.) In the book’s introductory comments, note how Israel (that is, Jacob) is supposed to be comforted that God treated Edom (that is, Esau) worse. (God’s worse treatment of Edom is not what He wanted to do but what He did as a result of what they did.) In the first major part, God through the prophet rebukes first the priests for their dishonorable sacrifices, saying, in effect, that no sacrifices would be better than such contemptuous ones. (Reflecting on 1:12, how might the Lord’s Table be defiled in our day?) The “offal” in 2:3 (NIV; “dung” KJV, ASV; “refuse” NASB), if you don’t remember, are the entrails from the animal that were to be taken outside the camp and burned with the animal’s hide and flesh. Next God rebukes the people, especially for marrying people of other religions, apparently divorcing their first wives in the process, probably for economic or other such reasons. God through Malachi seems to say that those who have the Spirit will not divorce and remarry. In the second major part, right away we find some of the prophecy of John the Baptizer (3:1; Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 1:76) and recall that the Lord did come to His Temple in the person of Jesus Christ. (The prophecy of John in Malachi 4:5-6, as we have it, is referred or alluded to in Matthew 11:13-14; 17:12-13; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:17; and perhaps also Revelation 11:3.) Again the prophetic timetable is condensed, for some of Malachi’s description of the Lord’s coming was not fulfilled in the first century AD but will be fulfilled on the Last Day. In the meantime, the call to repentance is the dominant theme. Quite notable is 3:10, where the Lord (possibly sarcastically) invites people to test His promise to bless the person who gives appropriate offerings; the verse is so notable because in all other things we are not to put the Lord to the test. Any takers?

The time between the testaments is not as much of a great unknown as I thought growing up. I think at one time or another we all think the 400 years between Malachi and the events of the New Testament, known as the intertestamental period, are dark or missing somehow. We actually know a good bit, for example my book Israel’s History ends with a 30-page chapter titled “Between the Testaments”. Among its highlights are the change from Persian rule, to Greek rule under Alexander the Great, to that of his general Ptolemy Lagus and his descendants, who gave way to the Seleucids (descendants of another one-time general of Alexander the Great’s), who were thrown off by the Maccabean revolt, after which the Hasmoneans of Israel had the throne until the Roman rule began. Various Jewish parties that we know from the New Testament developed during the intertestamental period, namely the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Oral law began to take shape and was later recorded as the Talmud. Writings from the period known as the Old Testament Apocrypha record some of the historical events (for example, the books of the Maccabees), as well as some that were just legends (for example, Judith and Tobit). (We’ve previously referred to some of the other Apocrypha, including additions to Esther and Daniel.) Jewish culture had to compete with Greek culture after Alexander’s conquest, and later Jewish culture also was challenged by Roman culture. The various leaders exerted influence over the practice of the Jewish religion—some more and some less—such as setting aside hereditary considerations for the high priests and naming those favorable to their rule.

The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV, known as Epiphanes, was particularly harsh, persecuting Jews for their faith and setting up pagan altars throughout the land. His most offensive blasphemy came on December 6, 167 BC, when he set up a statue of Zeus in the temple and ten days later sacrificed swine flesh on the Lord’s altar of burnt offering. A priest of the Hasmonean family named Mattathias refused to make a sacrifice on a pagan altar and killed a Jewish apostate who stepped forward to do so, as well as the Syrian officer. From that first act of resistance came the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids. The date the rebels took control of Jerusalem and restored worship at the Temple is remembered by the Jews with the annual Hanukkah festival. The nation of Israel eventually realized the independence for which they struggled under the leadership of the Maccabees, but the Hasmonean rulers, kings and a queen, were ultimately most distinguished for their impiety and treachery. One of the conquests and forced conversions that occurred under the Hasmoneans was of Idumea, from where the Herod family we know in the New Testament heralded.

Through the period as a whole God prepared the way for the Advent of the true King. Coming with culture of the Greeks, faith in reason competed with faith in God but, in some cases, strengthened faith in God. The dispersion or diaspora of the Jews landed some in nearly every city of the Greek Empire and gave rise to anti-Semitism for the Jews' rejection of pagan gods, but thus the dispersion also brought about various apologies or defenses of the Jewish faith. Also with the dispersion came greater emphasis on synagogues, which made it possible for Judaism to survive outside of the Holy Land. Similarly important during this time period was the development of the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, abbreviated with the Roman numerals LXX. Often times quotations in the New Testament are manifestly from the Septuagint, and one of the Gospel accounts known for its Old Testament references is that of St. Matthew, which we begin to read tomorrow.

Today’s Biblog folo responds to a tidbit linked yesterday about the Vatican opposing the wearing of the Muslim veil in European countries that forbid covering faces and my comment that immigrants should be excused when the law of the land goes against God’s law. A reader commented as follows.

I suppose the Muslims would say that the law against veils does go against their god’s law. But, in the other direction, they expect “European” women to obey their law in their countries. Women may not drive a car in Saudi Arabia, are restricted in where they may go without their husbands, and must dress modestly so as not to attract attention in public. (We could do with a little of that last one.) Foreigners who work in Saudi and bring their families live in compounds of like families. If they want church it must be held in their homes. Technically Bibles are not allowed, although people bring them in with their furniture. Talking about Christianity to a muslim is forbidden. (Some companies give extra paid leave and the wife & kids stay at home.)

Of course I am not privy to Vatican machinations, but I would suspect that the statement made yesterday is part of the Vatican’s pressure to tolerate Muslim customs in European countries in exchange for toleration of European customs in Muslim countries. For example, the compromise might be we’ll let the women wear the veil if you’ll let us have churches.

We have just a trio of tidbits today. A reader sent this link to news of a former LCMS pastor sentenced to jail for sexual assault. ... Voters at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Tuesday enacted what’s being called one of the nation’s most rigid anti-gay policies. ... And, on a lighter note, a reader sent this link to news of opposition to a Jewish idea for the birds.

As we tomorrow enter the final 14 days of our first year of reading the Bible together via the Daily Lectionary, we will take up the Gospel according to St. Matthew, which is a fine way to wrap up the month and the year. But, the Bible reading won't stop. As we prepare for the second year of following the Daily Lectionary, I invite you to share your thoughts with me that might be used to encourage others to participate with us, and I also invite your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:12 AM

November 15, 2006

Ps 135 / Zec 11-14 / Tidbits

In addition to these comments on Psalm 135, which is appointed for today, I add the following comments. Taken on its own, verse 6 sounds capricious, especially in the NIV: “The Lord does whatever pleases him” (the NASB is little better, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does”; the KJV and ASV with the past tense somehow don’t seem as bad, “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he” or “Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done”). The idea is not that the Lord is arbitrary in what He does and that we are subject to His whimsy and flights of fancy. Rather, as verse 5 indicates, the contrast is between the Lord and the other gods. The Lord does whatever pleases Him in all the created realms: heavens, earth, and seas; the idols cannot do anything. Another translation of verse 6 better says, “All that Jahve willeth He carrieth out”. Especially comforting for us in our sins is that the Lord has already willed and carried the plan that pleased Him to save us from our sins: sending Jesus Christ into the flesh to live, die, and rise again so that by grace through faith in Him we might be delivered from the death we deserve.

Zechariah 11-14 wraps up this prophetic book first by finishing the prophecy of the Advent (or “coming”) and rejection of the Messiah (chapter 11) and then by giving us the whole prophecy of the Advent and reception of the Messiah (chapters 12-14). Beginning the first of Zechariah’s final two prophecies, chapters 9-10 yesterday told of the Advent of the Messiah, and, concluding that first prophecy, today chapter 11 tells of His rejection. As a lament of sorts, 11:1-3 seem to be telling of the destruction that would come to the region after the Messiah had come and been rejected (we might think of the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, for example). Again notice the shepherd imagery in 11:4-17, which appears to be a three-part action-prophecy. In 11:7 and verses following, Zechariah speaks in the first person as typifying God (and again we can think of the siege of Jerusalem, at which time at least one historian says people actually ate one another’s flesh, as prophesied in 11:9). The thirty pieces of silver in 11:13 was the price of a slave—the description of the price as “goodly” (KJV, ASV) or “handsome” (NIV) or “magnificent” (NASB) is sarcastic irony. You may have recognized this prophecy as another of those pointing to the events of Holy Week (see Matthew 26:14-15; 27:3-10 [Zechariah’s prophecy and one of Jeremiah’s are apparently conflated, and the more prominent prophet is the one cited]). If the close connection of the crucifixion and Jerusalem’s second destruction are bothering you, remember how the prophet’s distant view sometimes compresses events (Jesus’ betrayal for the slave’s price came about AD 30 and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem some 40 years later, but both seem closer together through the prophet’s divine telescope).

The second major prophecy at the end of Zechariah is found in chapters 12-14. Chapters 12-13 tell of the deliverance and conversion of “Israel” (not ethnic or geographic Israel but the Church, all those who believe), and chapter 14 tells of the Messiah’s coming and His kingdom. Chapter 12 begins with a description of what seems to be the siege of Jerusalem (12:1-2) but quickly moves to its deliverance and triumph over the surrounding people and nations (12:3-9), which makes me think the siege at the beginning of the chapter is not so much the siege of AD 70 but perhaps the antichrist’s final siege of the Church. In 12:10-14, there is reference to Christ Crucified (see John 19:34, 37), but He is apparently, despite the mourning, the object of saving faith. Even in chapter 13 verse 7 refers to Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion (see Matthew 26:31, 56; Mark 14:27, 49-50), but the end result is a refined, albeit small (!), remnant (13:9). The Messianic era, on the one hand, brings destruction to the land and those rejecting the Savior (14:12-15), while, on the other hand, it brings salvation through the Means of Grace, thinking especially of Holy Baptism as the cleansing fountain of 13:1 (and see the life-giving water flowing from the Holy City in Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8; John 4:10-14; 7:38; and Revelation 22:1-2). The Messianic era begins with Christ’s coming in the flesh, and, even though thousands of ages pass by in our sight, His crucifixion and resurrection are the victory in the great apocalyptic battle described in chapter 14 that does not fully play itself out until the great Last Day, when the saints, those made holy (14:20), are separated once and for all from the unholy (the “Canaanites” of 14:21). Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

I have a handful of tidbits today, beginning with the Vatican weighing in on the Muslim veil controversy in Europe, though I am not sure I completely agree that immigrants absolutely have to obey the laws of culture or land to which they go, what if laws of the land go against God’s law? ... U.S. Roman Catholic bishops have made official their new guidelines for ministry to homosexuals, and they also discussed birth control, according to this report. ... There’s reportedly a whole religion that’s formed around having larger families, and didn’t you know that the Mormons would be nearby? ... Despite what this piece says, I think “lost” is “lost”, whether one has never come in the front gate or wandered out the back. ... And, donate toys to charities for Christmas, but I guess be careful of what toys! The reader who sent this link commented on the irony of what started as a religious program rejecting a religious doll, and I thought it was also sad that a talking religious doll was perceived as not being fun!

Thanks for the links, comments, and questions. I especially encourage you to share your thoughts that might encourage others to follow this daily Bible-reading plan to suggest improvements for how we present the information in the coming Church year. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:00 AM

November 14, 2006

Zec 6-10 / Folos / Tidbits

(Psalm 134 is appointed again today, and my previous post is here.)

By one outline, Zechariah 6-10 takes us through the last of the eight so-called night visions (6:1-8), tells us of the symbolic crowning of Joshua the high priest (6:9-15), addresses the problem of fasting and the promise of the future (chapters 7-8), and begins the first of two prophecies of the Messianic future and full realization of God’s kingdom (chapters 9-14, although today we only read through chapter 10). The last of the night visions (6:1-8) in some ways corresponds to the first (1:7-17), essentially also indicating that the Lord is in control of history for His saving purposes and will conquer the nations that oppress Israel, especially Babylon, although other nations also invaded Israel from the north. The crowning of Joshua is not a literal prophecy but symbolic, pointing to the Messiah, Who would combine the kingly and priestly roles, as Jesus does, if not the blood lines themselves. (Jesus, born of the kingly line of Judah, appears not to have had high-priestly or priestly blood lines, but was a priest of a different order, after that of Melchizedek, according to Hebrews 7:11-28.)

The hypocrisy of the people’s and priests’ fasts is targeted in chapter 7, and that the teaching comes in response to a question is said to be significant. The multiple fasts of 7:3, 5 and 8:19 recalled dark days from the exile: the fourth month was the month when Nebuchadnezzar breached Jerusalem’s walls, the fifth month was the month when the Temple and other important buildings were burned down, the seventh month was the month when the governor Gedaliah was assassinated, and the tenth month was the month when Nebuchadnezzar began the final siege of Jerusalem. Whether or not the people fast is not the key question, although, in the language of the Small Catechism, “fasting and bodily preparation is indeed a fine outward training”. In 7:9-10, the Lord through Zechariah points to four good works that give evidence of the people’s right faith relationship with the Lord. Be sure to note the references to the earlier prophets and people (7:7, 11-14) and how by ignoring the faithful prophets the people brought about their own destruction. That history is in contrast to the exiles’ present situation, however. Chapter 8 relates ten promises of blessing, each beginning with something to the effect of “This is what the Lord says”. The Lord promises to be jealous in a positive way for Zion and so return to her, gather together her people, and bless her in other various ways. The covenant language in 8:8 is especially noteworthy, as, I think, is the “evangelism” of 8:20-21—what might be equivalent in our time to people inviting others to come with them to church.

Chapter 9 begins the first of two prophecies that close the book of Zechariah, and together chapters 9 and 10 tell of the “advent” or “coming” of the Messiah, the anointed prophet, priest, and king. Chapter 9 begins, however, with words of judgment against Gentile nations, which judgment we have seen in other prophets brings the deliverance of the people of Israel (just as the eighth night vision would suggest). The words of 9:9 are quoted in the New Testament in connection with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15), and, although the word is sometimes translated as an adjective describing the King, we note what most translations suggest the King brings (or is “endowed with”, NASB): salvation. (Zechariah is said to sometimes be called the “Prophet of Holy Week”.) While 9:9-10 may be better known, we want to be sure not to miss 9:11, which is usually taken ultimately as a reference to the Sacrament of the Altar. Chapter 10 begins with contrast of the Lord’s blessings versus what idols do. The shepherd imagery is present in chapter 10, both in condemning the prophets of idols and foreign leaders and in pointing to the coming Good Shepherd. (The “shepherd” theme continues tomorrow in chapter 11.) Judah is the Messianic line, but the Messiah rules over a reunited kingdom, which prophecies are fulfilled not in a literal land of Israel but in the New Testament Church.

Today’s two Biblog folos have to do with reading we did yesterday. First, on Zechariah 1:3 and 5, I commented that we cannot come to God without the Holy Spirit and that God’s Word through His prophets stands forever but that the people before the exile had not heeded that Word. A reader emailed the following.

Another of those puzzling statements! First, God wants us to be repentant of sin. We cannot do that without the Holy Spirit. Second, God is frustrated because the people did not heed the prophets. Did those people not have the Holy Spirit? Or, did they refuse to listen to Him? (In some cases, I seem to remember, God “hardened their hearts” so they would not listen.)

The Lord by the Holy Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments enables us to return to Him in repentance. Yet, we are able to refuse the enablement or to turn away again once we have repented. In so refusing or turning away again we are like the people of old who did not heed the prophets. The Holy Spirit was at least initially available to them as He is available to us, but, to be sure, some refused to listen or stopped listening at some point. God can after a time remove His gracious enablement and, in essence, preserve someone in hardness of heart so that he or she will not listen to the Word. God forbid that ever happen to us!

Second, on the reading of Zechariah 1:15, a reader commented on the “sore” and “little” (KJV) displeasure, wondering if the “little” displeasure resulted in the death of two-third of those in Jerusalem and the exile of the other third. I would agree that one’s describing such treatment as the result of “little” displeasure would seem out of proportion, but the verse apparently is speaking of the Gentile nations. The Lord was a “little angry” (NIV) with them, but when, by trying to destroy the Jews as a people, they went further than He wanted them to, then they increased His anger (“helped forward the affliction” KJV, ASV; “added to the calamity” NIV; “furthered the disaster” NASB).

Tidbits number just three today. A reader sent this link to a bishop of the Church of England’s interesting position on disabled babies (things just seem to get weirder and weirder with the Anglicans, although our church body has its own problems, to be sure). ... The top Anglican or Episcopal official in this country tries to use mission work to distract people from her support of homosexuality. ... And, after a fire at an Episcopal congregation, some churches in the Topeka area may step up security because of a string of apparent arsons there (“arson fire”, incidentally is redundant and repetitive—an old broadcasting pet peeve, along with "intentionally set").

As we prepare for the second year of following the Daily Lectionary, I invite you to share your thoughts that might encourage others to participate with us, and I invite your suggestions for improving how we present the reading plan. Two questions were submitted recently, so there are two new Q&A starting here. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:52 AM

November 13, 2006

Zec 1-5

(There are some good comments on Psalm 133 in this previous post.)

The assigning of Zechariah 1-5 to read today brings us to the next book in canonical order, which we read over three days. As usual you can find my brief introductory comment, in this case highlighting Zechariah’s prophecies of the Messiah (especially the events of Holy Week), in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Zechariah and Haggai prophesied in Judah and Jerusalem around the same time after the exile (see Ezra 5:1 and 6:14). Zechariah was apparently born to a priestly family in Babylon during the exile; Zechariah’s father Berechiah may have died when Zechariah was young, for Zechariah succeeded his grandfather Iddo as the head of the family (confer Nehemiah 12:16, where Zechariah is listed as a “son” of Iddo). Unlike Haggai who likely became a prophet in his 70s and may have only served as a prophet for a relatively short period of time, Zechariah is thought to have become a prophet when much younger and possibly to have served for an extended period of time. Though some think two or more people wrote the book, we hold that Zechariah himself wrote the book that bears his name, although we recognize the book may not present the prophecies in a strict chronological order. I’ll warn you up front that some of the prophecies are full of the kind of apocalyptic imagery like that found in Revelation, although chronologically speaking Revelation is full of imagery like that found in Zechariah (one commentator says Zechariah’s influence on New Testament apocalyptic “is almost incalculable”; reading Revelation a second time, as we soon enter the second year of the Daily Lectionary, should be easier after reading books like Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Daniel). Taken together, the book of Zechariah calls people to repent and encourages those who do; Dr. Luther especially appreciated how comforting God’s prophecies through Zechariah were.

Zechariah 1-5 takes us through the book’s introduction calling people to repent (1:1-6) and begins the recounting of eight so-called night visions (1:7-6:8, although today we only read through seven of the eight). The Lord’s promise to return to people who repented (1:3) should not be understood as if we can repent on our own without the Holy Spirit enabling such contrition and faith. Clear in the introductory verses is God’s frustration at His unheeded words through previous prophets, and, while the prophets do not themselves live forever (1:5), God’s words through those prophets do stand forever (v.6; confer Isaiah 40:8). We might notice a break of sorts between the prophets before the exile and those after it, as well as evidence of the prophetic writings, along with the Pentateuch of Moses, being treated as Holy Scripture. In the so-called night visions, which at least seem to have come all in one night, Zechariah asks for explanations, and, although we may not be completely satisfied with the answers the angel gives him, in a sense we should be, since God makes clear that which we need to know (although admittedly things might be less clear to us than to Zechariah since we lack his familiarity with historical details). The successive visions showed Zechariah the following: that the Lord would restore the people, the land, and the Temple; that the four nations that devastated Israel would themselves be devastated (perhaps meaning Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, and Persia—although no clear identification may be intended and “four” can reflect the four directions of the compass and thus “all” the nations once used by God); that the new city would be immeasurable, would be more populous than before, and would not need walls for protection, since the Lord would protect it; that the Lord would cleanse not just the high priest but also Israel and restore her as a priestly nation; that the Lord would provide the leadership and resources for rebuilding the Temple through earthly means (Zerubbbabel and Joshua, of the kingly and priestly lines anointed with oil, are the trees from which the oil for the golden lamp comes); that the law continues to condemn those living in the land; and that unrighteousness would be removed from the land. The four horsemen of 1:7-17 are said to be the “watchers” of sophisticated breakdowns of the angels (as in this hymn), and, although the “watchers” found the world at rest and in peace, the people of Israel were still oppressed, prompting the Lord’s action. In reading 2:10, I thought of John 1:14 and the Lord tabernacling among us in the human flesh of Jesus Christ. Chapter 3 recalls the robes of Christ’s righteousness we are given in Holy Baptism, and 3:8 may well be applied to Joshua but is also a Messianic prophecy (the Branch or shoot from Jesse’s or David’s root or stem). The words of 4:6, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (NIV), are well applied to the Church today, ruling out programs and bylaws as means to establishing growth or unity. In chapter 5, there is no sexism or worse misogyny in portraying unrighteousness as a woman, since abstractions in Hebrew are grammatically feminine. And, of course, we want to remember that sinners, male or female, who repent (as did the people to whom Zechariah prophesied, according to 1:6) are forgiven and cleansed (as Joshua was in chapter 3) and so have no reason to fear the law or the “deportation” from the land.

Remember you are welcome to ask questions about the readings, which questions will then be posted without your name but with answers. Just use the "Submit Questions" link in the left margin near the top of the main Biblog page. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 12, 2006

Ps 132 / Hag / Folos

Reading Psalm 132 again today was good. (My previous post on it is here.) This time through I took greater note of the juxtaposition of David’s commitment to make a place for the Lord’s throne, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Lord’s choice of Zion as His resting place (vv.3-5 and 13-18). David’s commitment to build the Temple did not “cause” the Lord’s choice of Zion as His resting place, but the Lord’s choice of Zion was an act of God’s grace. The psalm makes no suggestion that God should fulfill its second petition of blessing the king because of the things David did, which are recalled in the first half of the psalm; the basis for God fulfilling its second petition is God’s own promise to David. There is a causal link, however, between the Presence of God in the Temple and the blessings on the Davidic kings; we recall how when the kings and people became unfaithful that God’s Presence departed the Temple and punished the unfaithful kings. Ultimately God’s Presence and glory are found in the fleshly-Temple of the God-man Jesus Christ, the last and best Davidic king. One more comment on verses 9 and 16, too: the petition in verse 9 is answered in verse 16, but God is the actor of clothing the priests in Christ’s righteousness in order to bring about the singing of the saints.

With the reading of Haggai today we switch from Judah and Jerusalem before the exile to Judah and Jerusalem after the exile. As usual you can find my brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). You may recall from our reading of the Old Testament’s historical narratives how Babylon conquered Jerusalem, taking its people into exile, but was in turn itself conquered by Cyrus king of Persia, who decreed the Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. Although about 50,000 Jews did return under Zerubbabel’s leadership and get the foundation of the Temple laid, opposition from the Samaritans and others, along with the Jews' own laziness, stopped work until Darius the Great became king of Persia. In Darius’ second year, Haggai and Zechariah, whose book we begin tomorrow, arose as prophets (some speculate that they had been active as prophets in the exile and only recently arrived in Judah). If, as some think based on 2:3, Haggai saw the destruction of Solomon’s Temple with his own eyes, then he would have probably been in his 70s during his service as a prophet. We don’t know how long Haggai was a prophet, but he appears to have spoken the four prophecies in the book during about a four-month period (some speculate his age was a factor for his short length of service). The third-person narratives may well mean that someone else other than Haggai recorded his activities, although Haggai was no doubt involved in the making of the record. While the book that bears Haggai’s name is the second-shortest in the Old Testament after Obadiah, it is no less significant.

The book of Haggai can be broken down as follows: the first message (1:1-11) and its response (1:12-15), the second message (2:1-9), the third message (2:10-19, the only message spoken to the broader “audience” of the people), and the fourth message (2:20-23). I point out a few things in what follows, and you are welcome to ask about anything. In 1:1, Zerubbabel, also called Sheshbazzar, as in Ezra 1:8, was the appointed governor of the land and of David’s royal line, and the high priest Joshua was the son of Jehozadak, who had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar (1 Chronicles 6:15). About 16 years had passed since the Temple’s foundations had been completed. As you read 1:3, you may recall that David built his own house before the Temple but at least wanted to build the Temple, where the leaders at this time seem content to leave it unfinished. The statements of 1:6 may be familiar if you read Hosea and Leviticus and Deuteronomy with us, for Haggai is describing curses for disobedience. We note the people’s response, even if it took a little time, and we note the Lord’s role in creating their response. In the second message, we note the Lord’s encouraging the people on the basis of His Presence with them, not on the basis of the physical glory of the Temple building. I hear the words of 2:6-7 as they were set to music by Handel (#5 here, followed by the text of Malachi 3:1). Our Lord Jesus, “the desired of all nations” (although some dispute the translation of the phrase), came to Jerusalem, of course, but not to Zerubbabel’s temple; Herod’s was well under construction by that time. As with the theology of the cross, true glory does not depend on outward appearances. In the third message, the Lord through Haggai promises to bless the people for their response to Haggai’s message, and there are aspects of the prophecy that border on being an “action prophecy”, likening the unfinished Temple to a dead body that corrupted everything it touched. In the fourth message, Zerubbabel is given as the Lord’s guarantee of the Messiah’s future coming, and we note that his name is in both genealogies of our Lord (that through Joseph in Matthew 1:12 and that through Mary in Luke 3:27). Some speculate that Zerubbabel was declared to be a king and that the Persians crushed what was a rebellion, but there is no historical evidence for that suggestion. Without kings it seems there is little for the prophets to do but await the one true King. Even now there is an aspect of the fulfillment of these prophecies for which we wait (Hebrews 12:26). As we wait, we do well to learn from Haggai that while God is not bound to the Temple and its rites, in a sense we are. (Of course, the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament law do not apply to us, but, as the early church fathers did, we can continue to draw principles from that ceremonial law.) For the people then God’s glory and Presence were not separable from the temple and its sacrifice, and for us His glory and Presence are not separable from His Word and Sacrament. The people then doubted whether they were the remnant, the true Israel and heirs of the promise, and Haggai pointed them to the external signs. We, too, need to be pointed to the external signs, especially as we find ourselves second-guessing whether we are the remnant on the basis of other measures of “glory”.

For Biblog folos today, email brought quick comments on folos and tidbits in yesterday’s post. First, about the letters to God, a reader agreed with my conclusion about the letters based on the piece I had originally read. Second, a reader was unimpressed by Wal-Mart’s getting religion again, commenting, “It looks like, ‘Do your Christmas buying at Wal-Mart, so we can pay our dues to the GLBT”, which are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender organizations. Third and finally, about the LCMS’ new focus on stewardship at the “forefront” of teaching, a reader rejected the official’s claim that it wasn’t about money or budgets but about lives, commenting, “They talk about ‘managing lives,’ but they count dollars. We could do better, but not by supporting a whole new cast of bureaucrats devoted exclusively to fundraising!”

God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 11, 2006

Zep / Folos / Tidbits

(This post on Psalm 131 is helpful.)

In the case of Zephaniah, I think my brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here) is correct. Most likely related to the royal line, Zephaniah prophesied at the time of King Josiah and thus was a contemporary of Jeremiah, as well as Nahum and Habakkuk. Like Jeremiah, Zephaniah prophesies of Judah’s exile (although Zephaniah does not name Babylon as its agent, perhaps due to his emphasis on the Lord’s being its ultimate agent). And, like Jeremiah, Zephaniah also prophesies of the nation’s future glory at the time of the Messianic kingdom. Dr. Luther said the “minor prophet” Zephaniah prophesied about Christ more than “major prophets” such as Isaiah and Ezekiel (maybe also Daniel and Lamentations for Luther), but not more than Jeremiah. Zephaniah’s prophecies seem to reflect a familiarity with the goings-on of the king’s court, as well as the writings of Isaiah and Amos and maybe even the prophecy of Jeremiah. (We do well to remember that perhaps more than due to being familiar with one another’s work the similarities between the prophetic books reflect their having a common Divine Inspiration.) While God’s prophecy through Zephaniah is said to reflect such familiarity and what is becoming familiar to us as the three-part prophetic outline, Zephaniah is its own book, emphasizing the Day of the Lord in its horror and comfort in its own unique ways.

Zephaniah 1:1-3 introduces the book, 1:4-18 tells of the Day of the Lord as bringing judgment on Judah, 2:1-3:8 tells of judgment on the nations, and 3:9-20 describes the redemption of the remnant. (It seems to me that 2:1-3 could go with what precedes.) I point out a few things in what follows, and you can ask about anything. In the introductory verses, we notice a similarity to the imagery of the flood in Genesis 6-8. In the judgment against Judah, we notice the central theme of the book in 1:7 and that instead of Judah at this point being the beneficiary of the Lord’s sacrifice she is the sacrificial victim. We also what may be a reference in 1:9 to the same pagan practice that began at the time of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 5:5). The judgment against Judah falls especially on the merchants who were getting rich by way of corrupt and dishonest business practices (1:10-13). Zephaniah 1:15 contains what be the most famous line of the book, especially in Jerome’s Latin translation, Dies irae, dies illa; the line was central in death Masses, such as that of Mozart, and also made its way into The Lutheran Hymnal, but apparently was too gloomy to be included in Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book. Note in 2:1-3 the call to repentance and faith in order to escape the judgment’s consequences described both for Judah, in the preceding verses, and for the Gentile nations, in the following verses. The city of 3:1 appears to be Jerusalem, where 3:5 says the Lord dwells and dispenses righteousness, though the unrighteous know Him not. Among the descriptors of the redemption that the Day of the Lord brings about, note God making the speech of the people pure (3:9, perhaps reversing Babel and pointing to the New Testament Pentecost) and bringing them peace (3:13). The theology of the cross is prominent: shame is glory, judgment is salvation, and death is life.

We have four Biblog folos today. First, my comment Thursday on Nahum 2:2 about the verse promising restoration sent a reader to look at translations other than the King James and so to discover and comment that the idea of restoration was certainly clearer in the NASB and NIV. (The ASV, ESV, and even the NKJV all also have “restore” or “return” instead of “turn away”.) The King James seems to take the perfect tense as an historical past tense indicating action that has already occurred, where the others take it as a prophetic past tense indicating from a future perspective action that will have happened in the past but has yet to happen. In this case, the tense may be controlling which precise meaning is given to the verb. Although either tense arguably could be correct in Nahum 2:2’s isolation, the future idea of restoration fits better with the chapter’s context than the past idea of turning away. On a more general level, the Hebrew verb shuwb can be used, as seemingly similar to this passage, of God turning or returning to His people, and it likewise can be used of the people turning to God in repentance, as we do with faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin.

Second, a tidbit in Wednesday’s post mentioned the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing arguments on the ban on so-called “partial-birth abortions”. A reader highlighted the linked piece’s claim that such procedures are not necessary to help the mother and made the following comment.

Agreed! If I understand it correctly, it’s a deliberate breech birth (feet first), something doctors have always considered an added risk to the mother, as well as to the child. How can anyone who advocates that “procedure” (method of killing) say they are concerned for the life or health of the mother?

Of course that comment to me is preaching to the choir, as they say. I heard more than I wanted to about the procedure Thursday on NPR’s “Morning Edition”.

Third, another tidbit in Wednesday’s post mentioned the LCMS CTCR’s consultations on men and women, with a rhetorical aside about the Commission checking what the Bible says. A reader, noting as I did that there would be a paper on “Insights from the Social and Behavioral Sciences”, took that as an indication of the Commission’s regard for Scripture, and the reader noted that the current president of the LWML would be participating in the consultation and so commented about some LWML leaders’ other agendas and only “incidental” concern for their constituents.

Fourth and finally, in Wednesday’s post I also linked to a piece about letters to God that were found in a bag on a beach, asking whether any of the letter writers had ever heard of prayer. A reader highlighted details from the piece that said the letters were addressed to their pastor or “altar”, suggesting that they were to be prayed over. The reader commented as follows:

It would seem from the text that the letter writers had heard of prayer—they wrote more organized requests for it than we do. The pastor evidently kept them all some place. It’s the person who dropped them in the ocean that I wonder about.

Although to some extent I still stand by comment, clearly I didn’t read the piece I had linked closely enough. I had earlier read this piece, which says nothing about the intention of the letters to be prayed over.

Tidbits today begin with this link a reader sent about students at a California college banning the Pledge of Allegiance (I commented that they must not even know the pledge if they think that with it they swear loyalty to God). ... A Houston business is getting international attention for refusing to do work for a gay couple. (Sexual preference is not yet a protected class against which discrimination is illegal.) ... Apparently Wal-Mart’s support of the gay agenda and the resulting boycotts have driven the company back to “Christmas”. ... A reader sent this link with comments from the outgoing White House political director regarding the Republican party needing to be a “big tent”, wondering if “big tent” meant opening the flap to the gay agenda and if the thought occurred to anyone that “moral issues may have defeated the Republicans”. ... You may have seen this week’s issue of Newsweek with the cover “The Politics of Jesus”; here’s the online story. ... If you mess with snakes at church, something like this story a reader sent in is bound to happen. ... Of all the weird things clergy members are accused of doing, this has got to be near the top of the list. ... Ask yourself what should be at the forefront of our church body’s teachings, and then read this. ... As atheists wrap up a conference in California, I believe the “crazy old aunt” will have the last laugh. ... And the abbreviation for today’s Old Testament reading reminded me—who would have thought that Led Zeppelin songs would be featured last night and tonight at an historic Austin church?

Thanks for the comments and links. God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 10, 2006

Hab

(Psalm 130 is appointed again today, and the previous post on it is here.)

Again with Habakkuk today I must confess that my brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here) is hardly worth referring to, for it contains an error (what was it with the short statements about short books?). We don’t know much about Habakkuk, but we do know he was a contemporary of Jeremiah who may have lived to see the beginnings of the fulfillment of God’s prophecy through him that Babylon would besiege Jerusalem. (The account in one book of the Old Testament apocrypha about Habakkuk ministering to Daniel, when he was said to be in the lions den a second time, is just a legend and not historical.) Instead of containing formal prophecies as do most of the other so-called “minor prophets”, the book bearing Habakkuk’s name contains a dialogue between him and God. In chapters 1 and 2 Habakkuk “argues” with God about His mysterious ways that Habakkuk cannot understand, and, after God has replied, Habakkuk responds in chapter 3 with a prayer-like confession of faith. However, we are not reading the printout of a private chat session, for Habakkuk probably gave voice to all of Judah’s faithful who struggled to understand God’s ways, and God’s answers to Habakkuk thus spoke to them, too. Habakkuk’s confession also became the people’s confession as it made its way into the liturgy, helping them, as it did him, in faith to find comfort and rest in God’s plan and await its fulfillment. We may well wrestle, as did he and they, with God’s seeming failure to execute judgment on the wicked and His punishing the “righteous” by ways of the wicked, and, whatever it is with which we wrestle, we, too, can find peace through the faith Habakkuk confessed.

Structurally, Habakkuk has two “laments” (1:2-4 and 1:12-17) and two replies (1:5-11 and 2:1-5), five woes (2:6-19) and a “liturgical piece” (2:20), and concludes with the prayer-like confession (chapter 3). In what follows, I make a few points again, and you are always free to ask about anything. You will likely recognize the cry of the faithful in 1:2, “How long?” Note in 1:5 that God knows how shocking what He is going to do will be to the people. Perhaps some time passed between the exchanges reported. It seems that 1:12 expresses Habakkuk’s shock and, to some extent, disbelief that what God has said would come true or that what has happened would result in the destruction of the people. Not only is 2:1-4 God’s answer of sorts to our perennial “Why?”, but the Lord also through Habakkuk 2:4 gives us a clear statement of salvation by faith. The five “woes” that begin in 2:6 should make us think of those “woes” that Jesus spoke (see Matthew 23:13-32 and Luke 6:24-26). Habakkuk 2:20 not only transitions to chapter 3 but also provides the contrast to the idols in the preceding verses and the basis for the comfort of the faithful: there is no doubt that what the Lord has promised will come about. This “liturgical piece” of 2:20 was the text of a song one of the first choirs I belonged to regularly sang before the Divine Service and rightly so, for “His holy temple” need not be limited to heaven, as the “psalm” that follows in chapter 3 also suggests. The “silence” of 2:20 as we sang of it was to set a quiet and contemplative mood before the service, but, while it carries the force of “hush” and calls for awe of and respect for the Lord, the Lord’s forgiving our sins and filling us with the Holy Spirit cannot help but bring forth songs from our hearts and voices. Chapter 3’s “psalm” of confession is such an example of the sacrifice of praise from our lips, in all circumstances, and we do well to similarly recount all of God’s awesome deeds, seen or yet unseen, and call for Him to renew them in our day but in His time.

Happy Birthday today to Martin Luther—if he had kept on living in this world he’d be 523, but on February 18, 1546, he began his eternal life. God bless today and everyday until we begin ours!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:17 AM

November 09, 2006

Na

(As I reread Psalm 129 today I was glad for this previous post.)

Our next book in canonical order is Nahum. My brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here) is so brief and somewhat misleading that it is hardly worth looking up! Nahum was from Elkosh, but, despite much conjecture (some even placing the town in Assyria), scholars are uncertain where that town was located; so, we don’t know if Nahum was from Judah or Israel. Judah seems somewhat more likely as we consider three things: that the Assyrians destroyed Israel’s capital Samaria probably around 722-721, that at least one of Nahum’s prophecies is to be dated after 663 B.C. (3:8), and that others of his prophecies are to be dated before 612 B.C. (Dating Nahum to the late end of the period puts his activity during Josiah’s reign and thus makes him a rough contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah.) Most of the prophecies themselves are addressed to Nineveh (the same city in which Jonah prophesied and that repented but later turned away), which King Sennacherib had made the capital of the Assyrian empire about 700 B.C., but the prophecies are nevertheless meant for listeners in Judah. Although the Nineveh-based Assyrians had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and would inflict heavy losses on the southern kingdom, they themselves would be destroyed, and prophecy of that destruction and the related deliverance of Jerusalem is comfort to Jerusalem and what remains of Judah.

Nahum’s three chapters can be broken down as follows: Nineveh’s judge (chapter 1), Nieneveh’s judgment (chapter 2), and Nineveh’s destruction (chapter 3). I point out a few things in what follows, and you can ask about anything, as usual. In 1:4, the three places named are known for their fertility but still are subject to the Lord’s command. In 1:7 there are promises for those faithful to the Lord, presumably Judah in this case. Note the more explicit comfort for Judah in 1:12-13, 15. The last of those verses (1:15) uses an expression that is applied to various messengers of different pieces of good news, perhaps most significantly that of deliverance from sin (Romans 10:15). Also not to be missed is the “sacramental” reception of that forgiveness! The restoration of Israel promised in 2:2 can be take to some extent to refer to the return from exile, but to the greatest extent the verse speaks of the Messianic Kingdom. The rest of the chapter uses vivid imagery to describe Nineveh and the Assyrians under siege, most likely by the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians. Chapter 3 also has dramatic verses in a clipped style describing the destruction of shameful Nineveh. Locust imagery similar to that we saw most recently in Joel comes in at the end of the chapter, as does shepherd imagery used to describe the end of Assyria’s reign. For its part, Nineveh is said to have been so destroyed that it was not rebuilt, in keeping with God’s words of judgment spoken through Nahum. (The ruins were quickly covered by wind and sand; Alexander the Great did not recognize them at all 300 years later, and they were not “discovered” until 1845.) We most assuredly can draw comfort from God’s words of promise spoken through Nahum, especially that, God “cares for those who trust in Him” (1:7 NIV).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:53 AM

November 08, 2006

Mic 4-7 / Tidbits

(As you re-read Psalm 128 today, this post may be helpful.)

Micah 4-7 quickly concludes this book, giving hope for Israel and Judah (chapters 4-5), the Lord’s case against Israel in the heavenly courtroom (chapter 6), and gloom turning to triumph (chapter 7). The Messianic vision of chapter 4 is truly comforting. Note that in 4:2 torah and dabar, teaching and Word, are parallel. The imagery in 4:3 is the opposite of that which we saw recently in Joel 3:10. Micah clearly prophesies of the end of the monarchy (4:9) and of the exile to Babylon (4:10, which word can in some cases refer to Assyria), but he also there clearly prophesies of the people’s rescue and redemption. The other nations will gloat over the exile, but God will ultimately bring judgment upon them. (In the usual Hebrew versions of the text, the verse we have as 5:1 really belongs to the end of chapter 4, but it can be said to pertain more to chapter 5 as we have it.) Note well in 5:2 the prophecy that the birth of the Messiah will be in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:6 for how the prophecy was understood). You might also note that both the Messiah’s fleshly and Spiritual genealogies are “from of old, from ancient days”. Of course, the prophecy continues in 5:3-4; note especially the reference to the Mother of our Lord (5:3; confer Isaiah 7:14 and perhaps also Luke 2:35) and the Good Shepherd imagery (5:4). The many human shepherds or leaders that try to resist the Assyrians will do so ineffectively (5:5-6). The prophecy in 5:10-15 of the people’s future faithfulness almost seems to lead right back to the case against Israel in chapter 6. The rebukes of 6:3-5 are said to be “tender”, given the address “My people”, and some of you may see them as the origin of the Reproaches that are sometimes used in the liturgy, such as on Good Friday. In 6:6-8 Micah is not denying the desirability of sacrifices but indicates that apart from the covenant they are useless. As chapter 7 progresses from gloom to hope, various voices are said to be heard: Micah (vv.1-7), Zion (vv.8-10), Micah again (vv.11-13), possibly Zion again (v.14), the Lord (v.15), and Micah (vv.16-20). The division within families described in 7:6 seems to be behind our Lord’s statement in Matthew 10:35-36 (see also Mark 13:12). Such division in families come part and parcel with confessing the marvelous works of the Lord. And, chief among God’s marvelous deeds is the forgiveness of sins (7:18-20), which forgiveness is ours only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Tidbits today begin with yesterday's election. Of course the results aren’t official as I post, but early indications suggest the following headlines: on the referenda front at least several gay marriage bans passed while South Dakota’s abortion ban apparently failed and the U.S. Congress now has its first Muslim. ... A reader sent this sad story about a dramatic attempt to draw attention to the dangers of Islam. ... While another Southern Baptist leader weighs in on charismatic practices, a reader sent this link to scientists’ analysis of the brains of people said to be speaking in tongues. ... The U.S. Supreme Court today is scheduled to hear arguments on about so-called partial birth abortions (too bad they don’t call it what it is: murder). ... The LCMS CTCR is getting ready to get some input on the Biblical roles of men and women (I wonder if the Commission has looked at what the Bible says). ... Coming soon to New York City: pick-your-own-gender birth certificates (thanks to a reader for sending this link). ... And, has none of these letter-writers heard of prayer?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 07, 2006

Ps 127 / Mic 1-3

Today we read Psalm 127 again, and you can find my previous post on the psalm here. I also direct you to verse 1’s mention of the Lord watching over (NIV; “keep” KJV, ASV; “guards” NASB) the city and the role of the city’s watchmen in standing guard (NIV; “waketh” KJV, ASV; “keeps awake” NASB). The verb for which the Lord is the subject gives us the noun for those who stand guard. At first glance there might appear to be a contradiction as to who is responsible for guarding the city, especially if we think of the watchmen as being on guard to rouse the people of the city to defend themselves, but there is no contradiction when we consider that it is only with God’s blessing that the city is protected. One commentator says, “Many a city is well-ordered, and seems to be secured by wise precautions against every misfortune, against fire and sudden attack; but if God Himself does not guard it, it is in vain that those to whom its protection is entrusted give themselves no sleep and perform … the duties of their office with the utmost devotion.” (See especially Psalm 121:3-8 for the way the Lord watches over us.) Mindful of our recent readings in the so-called “minor prophets”, we might also apply these particular portions of verse 1 referring to “the city” to the Church and remember that God Himself ensures that the gates of hell do not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18). Such blessings of God are obtained without, in the words of that same commentator, “natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labours to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance.”

The appointing of Micah 1-3 to read today brings us, in canonical order, to the next book of the Old Testament, one which we will read today and tomorrow. The background information for this month’s reading has a brief introductory comment about the book (online here and as a PDF here). Although there are some thirteen other Biblical figures with the name “Micah” (see, for example, 1 Kings 22), Jeremiah 26:18 mentions the prophecy of this Micah (the only such explicit canonical reference by one prophet of another) and helps us identify where Micah was from and when he prophesied. As a contemporary of Isaiah, whose prophesy gets so much prominence and is similar in many ways to Micah’s, some consider Micah to be “the neglected prophet”. Micah was from Judah but prophesied about both Israel and Judah. Three significant events that are said to have occurred during Micah’s time include the loss of most of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians, the fall of the northern kingdom’s capital to the Assyrians, and a revolt by Judah and others against the Assyrians, who subsequently overran much of Judean territory, although its capital, Jerusalem, was spared. Somewhat like other prophets we have read, Micah announces judgment against Israel and Judah followed by comfort, but in Micah’s case there are two such “cycles” of prophecy.

Today’s reading of Micah 1-3 takes us through the first cycle’s announcement of judgment; although structurally the hope for Israel and Judah is scheduled for tomorrow, we do get some beautiful prophecy about the Messiah and restoration in the middle of the prophecy of judgment (2:12-13). Notice in 1:2 the “courtroom” framework that may be somewhat familiar by now. Verses 10-16 are said in the Hebrew to include a series of puns on the names of villages near Micah’s home town—puns which predict the Assyrian invasion and deportation.See how the sin that began in Israel is now being committed also by Judah, although the punishment could be taken as not yet reaching Jerusalem (“to the gate” in 1:12), as Jerusalem was spared from the Assyrian captivity, or it may be taken as prophecy of the more distant Babylonian captivity (in which case “to” means also “into”). Like the other prophets we have read recently, Micah especially criticizes the wealthy for oppressing the poor (2:1-2). Like his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors, Micah faced opposition from false prophets, and in 2:11 he sarcastically says the people will listen best to someone who says they will prosper. (Compare the crowds who flock to preachers of prosperity in our time!) The fickle relationship between the people and the prophets is described in 3:5, and Micah on God’s behalf prophesies that the false prophets will no longer see visions, and he contrasts his own being filled with the spirit (3:8). The prophecy of 3:12 seems to be that later quoted in Jeremiah 26:18. False teachers in our time also are subject to such condemnation as Micah describes in chapter 3.

Sorry for the delay in getting today’s post online; the post was ready to go last night, but, even as late as 3:30 a.m. my internet connection at home was down. (If it's not one technical problem, it's another!) God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 09:23 AM

November 06, 2006

Ob & Jnh / Folo / Tidbits

(Re-reading Psalm 126 today provides a nice contrast to the doom and gloom of the exile we’ve been getting from the co-called “minor prophets”; my previous comments on the psalm are here.)

The first book we read today, Obadiah, the shortest in the Old Testament at just 21 verses, extends a theme we have seen somewhat in other prophets: that of judgment for Edom, the descendants of Jacob’s (or Israel’s) brother Esau, especially over its gloating at Jerusalem’s destruction. As is the case with all the books we read in November, there is just a brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). With both an earlier and later time when Obadiah may have been prophesying, he is either a contemporary of Elisha or Jeremiah, respectively. The later date, around the time of the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem, is more likely, but admittedly not specified. Edom and Israel had centuries of history together, beginning when their progenitors were in the womb together. Their sharing Isaac as a common ancestor makes more blameworthy both Edom’s failing to help defend Israel and Edom’s open hostility towards Israel. Although most narrowly understood the book speaks of judgment on Edom and ultimately restoration of Israel, its final verses speak of judgment on all nations and of the ultimate victory of the Church. The Church prays as Obadiah hints: Thy Kingdom come.

The second book we read today, Jonah, should be somewhat familiar. Most people know something about the story of Jonah and the great fish, and we read Jonah’s prayer in 2:2-9 as the seasonal canticle for October. As you probably expect, there are brief introductory comments in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). For additional background information and comments on 2:2-9, see here and here. Jonah does not identify himself as the author of the book that bears his name, but tradition usually assigns it to him. Mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is thought to have been a contemporary of Amos, although Jonah’s book is quite different in that it contains the narrative of a single episode from his life. Where many take the book to be a made up “fish story” of one kind or another, rejection of Jonah’s miraculous three-day survival in the belly of a fish for consistency must also reject our Lord’s miraculous resurrection after three days in the belly of the earth. Interestingly, the event spans the globe as it was known then, from Tarshish, thought to be in Spain, to Nineveh on the Tigris River in Assyria. The book seems to be structured in two parallel parts, the first telling of Jonah fleeing his mission and the second of him fulfilling it. There is a great deal of comparison and contrast at least implied in the symmetry of the book. In some ways we have Jonah’s reaction over people who repent instead of the joyous reaction of the angels in heaven (Luke 15:7, 10).

There is just one Biblog folo today. Regarding the reading of Amos 9:14-15 and my comments Sunday, a reader emailed the following comment.

We say, “a Messianic prophecy”, but is it also where the kibbutz dwellers got their ideas? Articles used to be written about Israel building a nation out of a “waste land.” Others said it was not “waste” but seasonal pasture. I don’t know where to find the truth of that any more. Lately with all the cluster bombs and unexploded ordinance in the fields, it would seem that both sides are turning it back to waste land.

I don’t know that the kibbutz dwellers (those living in collective farms or settlements in modern Israel) would necessarily disagree that the prophecy is Messianic; to the extent they are faithful Jews, I would expect that they are still waiting for the Messiah with the same wrong notions about his earthly kingdom that the Jews had in Jesus’ day. Clearly the prophecy was not fulfilled with the return from exile, with which statement I also expect the kibbutz dwellers would agree. The kibbutz dwellers may be trying to bring it about on their own, but then they are no different in that regard from so-called “evangelical” Christians who think they have to reestablish Temple worship before Christ can return for what they think will be His millennial reign.

I have just a handful of tidbits today. As I expect you've heard by now, a major Christian leader resigned and then was fired amid charges of sexual immorality. ... The new female “bishop” of the U.S. Episcopal church is now in office, with a little lip towards her conservative critics. ... An university student in Missouri is charged with an “insufficient commitment to diversity”. ... A reader sent this link to a site with some audio files of the now-sainted Professor Kurt E. Marquart. ... And, if you’ve ever wondered for whom worship is, you’ll want to read Saturday’s Memorial Moment.

I don't publicly thank our webmaster enough for all his hard work dealing with the various technical difficulties of a project like this, keeping the index current, and preparing for our second year of reading. So, "Thank you!"

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 05, 2006

Am 6-9

(Psalm 125 is appointed again today, and the comments on it are here.)

With the reading of Amos 6-9 today we finish the book, so we move through God’s words spoken by Amos condemning Israel for its pride (chapter 6) and Amos’ visions of Divine retribution (7-9:10), concluding with a few verses of promise (9:11-15). In 6:5 we might see a potential misuse of sacred instruments, or God may be condemning the modern leaders for thinking they were like David when they were not. People who had once taken God’s name in vain will be afraid to even mention it for fear of bringing a greater curse. The visions of future judgment described at the beginning of chapter 7 apparently did not come true, thanks to Amos’ appeal. I thought 7:9 was interesting for its progression of Isaac, Israel (that is, Isaac’s son Jacob), and the contemporary Jeroboam. Only Amos is said to refer to Israel by reference to Isaac, but such a reference certainly recalls God’s promises to Abraham that were to be fulfilled through Isaac. In 7:10-71 we hear of opposition to Amos’ work, and in the process we get a glimpse of Amos’ past and God’s calling him. Chapter 8 describes the people’s minimal tolerance of religious festivals, desiring more to get on with their business (how so today!). The punishment the Lord promised to send them as a result would be worse than in the past in that He would withhold prophetic words of comfort and guidance. Note in 9:5-6 what is called the third of three doxologies (words giving glory); the first is said to be in 4:13 and the second in 5:8-9. In chapter 9 we again find images indicating the inescapability of God’s judgment. The glimmer of comfort begins in 9:8 and continues through the end of the book, in terms of an Eden-like paradise where fresh food is continually available. The rule of David will again extend over other nations, with Edom’s remnant being symbolic of the Messiah’s rule over all the earth. As with all such Messianic prophecies, we remember that the prophecies are fulfilled not with the literal land of Israel but with the Church—and its members saved by grace through faith—that inherits the new heaven and the new earth.

God bless your day, and may you let God make it holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 04, 2006

Am 1-5

(The previous comments on Psalm 124 should be here.)

Amos 1-5 being appointed for reading today brings us to the next prophetic work of the so-called Book of the Twelve in canonical order, which we read today and tomorrow. As with Joel yesterday, there is a very brief introductory comment in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here). Amos, like David, may have been a literal shepherd turned into a figurative one (1:1; confer 1:2), and his claim that he was not a prophet (7:14) would seem to mean that he was not a part of a prophetic school, although does not mean he was uneducated. Amos was from Judah but apparently prophesied against if not also at Bethel in Israel, where the leaders of that northern kingdom worshipped, but, like Hosea, who along with Isaiah are said to have been rough contemporaries of Amos, Amos also warned the southern kingdom of Judah and its capital of Jerusalem. Especially Israel was becoming increasingly corrupt morally and religiously, and God’s patience had reached an end, although God called the people to repent and promised mercy on the remnant. Particularly offensive to God and a notable theme in Amos is the people’s oppression and neglect of the poor despite God’s having made them abundantly prosperous. Good works are not what saved them then or save us now, but works are nevertheless expected to flow from a life redeemed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Amos is sometimes called the “prophet of justice” for his emphasizing that God’s people should show forth His justice and righteousness to the world, but we cannot forget that God is primarily about judging sinners and declaring them righteousness. In a variation of what we have seen in other prophetic books, Amos’ prophecies of judgment against the other nations come first, followed by judgment on Judah and Israel, with a variety of reasons given. (The different sequence may be a rhetorical device to gain the hearer’s attention and approval until he throws the knockout blow.) No prophet is said to portray the nation’s impending doom more bleakly than Amos. Eventually, however, we will get to at least a few verses of prophecy promising a revival of David’s House and a restoration of Israel.

I hope the following comments are helpful as you read Amos 1-5. The earthquake of 1:1 may be the same earthquake mentioned in Zechariah 14:5 and reportedly confirmed by archaeological excavations at Hazor. The dating in 1:1 is significant for mentioning both of the kings, with Judah’s first, either due to it being his home nation or having the Messianic promises. The numbers of sins given in 1:3 and other such verses are figurative for “many”. Damascus was the capital of the Arameans and a perennial enemy of the northern kingdom. Gaza, likewise, was a leading Philistine city, and Tyre of the Phoenicians. Edom, as you may recall, is the nation descended from Jacob’s brother Esau. As the judgment continues into chapter 2, Judah and Israel are included, and chapter 3 through a series of rhetorical questions tells how the people are fully responsible for breaking their covenant with God. (In 3:12 don’t miss the tiny promise of a remnant, albeit a mutilated one, individual survivors of the nation that perishes.) In chapter 4, God through Amos speaks of how He has tried to discipline the people in the past; note that the disasters are not just “natural” but caused by God. Nevertheless, the people had not repented, and so in chapter 5 God laments them even as He continues to call them to repent. The figures of speech in 5:19 emphasize the inescapability of God’s judgment. God in 5:21-23 is not turning away from the worship He has commanded but indicating the hearts of the people are not in the worship of or obedience to the Lord.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word in all its forms!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 01:03 AM

November 03, 2006

Ps 123 / Joel

Our reading and appreciation of Psalm 123 may well be complicated by our American context in which, at least from the slaves perspective, the slave-master relationship is not usually thought of as a good one. While there were no doubt some merciful slave owners in U.S. history, there were also undoubtedly those who were unmerciful. The psalm is emphasizing the mercy (in this case chanan) that a slave could expect his master to show. Slaves in Israel had rights and often were in positions of trust, and a master could be liable if a slave died. In this land of the free we also may be reluctant to remember that even freed from our slavery to sin Christians are still slaves or servants of the Lord and to righteousness. In Israel, a king’s subjects were regarded as his servants, and we remember that the Messiah Himself is the Suffering Servant. Such thoughts emphasize all the more our servanthood to our Savior King and our path following His way of the cross. As we look to Him in faith, we most assuredly do receive mercy. (My previous more general comments on this psalm are here.)

Today is our one day to read all of Joel! There are the briefest of comments in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here), in this case fitting because less is said to be known of Joel and his circumstances than any other prophet. Mentioned only in the books Joel and Acts, the Joel of this book apparently is not to be identified with any of the other “Joels” mentioned in the Old Testament, and Pethuel, Joel’s father, is also unknown. Some traditions hold that Joel prophesied around the same time as Hosea and Amos, and there does seem to be with Amos an affinity of style. Alleged quotations from any more-easily-dated prophet could in most cases just as easily go the other way. Dr. Luther suggests Joel had a different approach to prophecy but was as unsuccessful as other prophets, which in and of itself perhaps speaks to our modern situations. At the center of Joel’s prophecy are locusts plaguing Jerusalem and the temple. The book seems to divide itself into two parts: at 2:17 if the forms of the people’s lament and the Divine oracles are considered, or at 2:27 considering the contents of the more-contemporary vision and the more-eschatological vision (that is, dealing with the end times). So, one outline of the book divides it into two major parts as follows: Judah experiencing a foretaste of the Day of the Lord (1:2-2:17) and Judah being assured of salvation in the Day of the Lord (2:18-3:21). (Interestingly, the Hebrew version divides the same content into four chapters, with the third chapter being what we have as 2:28-32, which happens to be the basis for Peter’s sermon in Acts 2.)

As we read Joel, know that plagues of locusts were a recurring phenomenon in Israel (and, we can think of the eighth plague against the Egyptians in Exodus 10:1-20). Wave after wave of locusts seem to have come, each further diminishing any hope the people retained, but God’s promise of restoration is equally restoring (compare 1:4 with 2:25). While some want to find in the four waves only the four coming empires (Assyrian, Persian, Greek, and Roman), we are surely to understand Joel as referring to literal locusts, not only figurative ones, but understanding them literally does not deny them of prophetic symbolism (see especially 2:20). Joel is calling for the people to repent of their sins, with the outward sackcloth, fasting, and wailing that accompanies such mourning (1:8-14), but the repentance is to be more than outward; 2:13 is a well known expression of that idea, as well as a beautiful statement of God’s grace and compassion (you may know it from Joel 2:12-19 being the appointed Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday in some lectionaries). The plague of locusts may have occurred around the same time as a drought (1:19-20), although it could be that the destruction of the locusts is likened to that of a fire (for example, 2:3, 5). As harsh as the description of the land’s devastation is the beauty of the prophecy of its restoration, even as it just begins (for example, 2:22). As mentioned, 2:28-32 seems to be the text for Peter’s Pentecost sermon (see Acts 2:16-21), which fact drives home for us that we live in the end times, the latter days, with the last day quite imminent. Joel 2:31 anticipates the Parousia, or so-called “final coming” of our Lord Jesus, which is timely for this month as the Church year winds down (see also other passages, such as 3:15). Joel 2:32 is also quoted by Paul in Romans 10:13, but compare comments of our Lord that temper any gross misinterpretation of the passage (see Matthew 7:21-22; 25:11-12; Luke 6:46; 13:24-27). In chapter 3 the judgment on the nations and the blessing on Israel again seem to coincide via a final climactic battle. The preparation of God’s enemies for war against him in 3:10 uses the opposite of the figure of speech used elsewhere for God’s peaceful reign (see Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3). In 3:17-21’s description of the blessing of God’s people, note especially the imagery of the flowing stream in verse 18 and the emphasis on forgiveness in 21. Does it make anyone else think of the Baptismal Font and God washing away our sins and giving us eternal life there? Joel is truly said to be a prophetic book emphasizing Word and Sacrament, as well as the Lord and Giver of Life, Who works through Word and Sacrament, law and Gospel, to establish Zion, the Church.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:36 AM

November 02, 2006

Ps 122 / Hos 11-14 / Folos / Tidbits

Psalm 122 is appointed for our reading again today, and my previous comments are here. I remarked in those comments about the use of the psalm after the exile with faith in and expectation of the Messiah. The psalm, as we have it, is ascribed to David, although if David’s authorship is genuine then he himself was anticipating the construction of the House of the Lord (vv.1, 9) in Jerusalem (v.2), for some argue that city was not likely a pilgrimage destination until after the Temple’s dedication. Although the Hebrew verb bana means only “to build”, the first half of verse 3 is translated by some as “built up again”, thinking of the city rising again from the ruined and razed conditions at the time of the Babylonian exile, although it could also apply to the city either after it was taken from the Jebusites or as it comes down from heaven symbolizing the return of our Lord in glory. The verb can be used both with God’s creative force as the subject and with human beings as the subject, and, depending on how one dates the psalm and thinks of its referent in this verse, either could be accurate in this half verse (not to mention that God works through means, such as human beings, to accomplish some of his creative building). The second half of verse 3 speaks to the city being compact, which seems to reflect house literally touching house but also figuratively its being unified into a whole that is therefore stronger. As for the overall structure of the psalm, note how verses 1-2 express joy for joining the faithful on the pilgrimage, verses 3-5 describe why Jerusalem is important for the faithful, and verses 6-9 are the prayers of the faithful for the city. Of course, as I mentioned in the previous comments, we like the exiles can use the psalm as a whole in expectation of the New Jerusalem, but we can also think of verse 1 as applying to our weekly gathering to receive the forgiveness of sins around Word and Sacrament with the other holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.

Hosea 11-14 takes the discussion of the unfaithful nation and its faithful God through to the end of the book. We hear of the Lord’s Fatherly love (11:1-11), Israel’s punishment for unfaithfulness (11:12-13:16), and Israel’s restoration after repentance (chapter 14). Switching the imagery from earlier in the book, the bulk of chapter 11 describes Israel as a wayward son. Note that by Divine inspiration St. Matthew understands 11:1 as pointing to Jesus’ return from Egypt as a boy (Matthew 2:15). The Lord’s compassion is so very evident in 11:8-11. Verse 8 refers to Admah and Zeboiim as cities of the plain near Sodom that were destroyed (Genesis 19:24-25 and Jeremiah 49:18 imply their destruction, but their destruction is explicit in Deuteronomy 29:23). In reading 12:2-4 remember Jacob’s name, which meant “he deceives”, was changed to “Israel”; the narratives are in Genesis 24:26; 27:36; 32:22-28; 35:1-15. The idea seems to be that the nation bearing Israel’s name acts more like he did before his conversion than afterwards. Judah, of course, was Jacob’s fourth-born but nevertheless the one who had the leadership, and Ephraim was one of Jacob’s son Joseph’s sons. Like elsewhere, chapter 13 uses Ephraim as representative of all of Israel; Ephraim had become a prominent tribe as Jacob had prophesied in blessing him (Genesis 48:10-20). Again in the midst of the condemnation of Ephraim and prophecy of its destruction we find in 13:14 a promise of the tribe’s redemption, although some take the verse as a threat. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, St. Paul draws on this verse, which in this context speaks of the restoration of the nation, to speak of the bodily resurrection there. Chapter 14 calls for the nation to repent and promises forgiveness and blessing when they do—to be sure not on account of their repentance but on account of God’s grace and mercy.

Today I have two Biblog folos that were sitting in my inbox for a few days. First, a reader commented on Daniel 7:27 as follows:

What a great verse! Just hearing that after all is said and done, God will prevail and we will all be with Him! Guess it was just reassuring after reading the scary part about the four beasts, etc.

Amen!

Second, regarding Hosea 1:2 and my comments Monday about whether or not Hosea knew about Gomer’s unfaithfulness, a reader emailed the following comment with link.

Sometimes being literal minded is simplest! I have not seen this explanation [see footnote "c"] in reference to Hosea. Israelite women should not have been there, and neither should Israelite men. But, if Gomer’s promiscuity was past tense, Hosea’s children probably were his own, as stated.

The linked explanation is more than I know of temple prostitutes, and I have not read anything suggesting the children were other than Hosea’s and Gomer’s, as the text does state, at least in the case of the first son.

Tidbits just number three today. A Turkish religious leader said criticizing Islam threatens world peace, as the Vatican confirms that the pope’s visit to Turkey is still on. ... The Lutheran Church’s identification of the office of the pope with the office of the antichrist has become controversial for a Minnesota political candidate, according to this piece a reader emailed. ... And, a reader also sent this link to a poll that suggests nearly half of Americans aren’t sure whether God exists (and it gets worse).

As always, thanks to those who send comments, tidbits, and ask questions—speaking of which there are two new ones starting here. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

November 01, 2006

Ex 15:1-18 / Hos 8-10 / All Saints’ Day

Welcome to our final month of our first year reading the Bible together!

The seasonal canticle for November is Exodus 15:1-18. There are some comments here about the verses’ context in Exodus from when we read them as part of our regular reading, and there are comments about the verses in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and as a PDF here), where I allude to Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” as I discussed here. The song of Moses and the Israelites for God delivering them from the Egyptians is pretty praiseworthy (both of God and as a song), but God’s delivering us from sin is even more praiseworthy and in some ways needs the kind of “new song” of which the psalmist speaks (for example, Psalm 40:3; 98:1). Still, there’s nothing wrong with the words in Exodus 15:13, which speak of God continuing to show mercy (checed) and guide His New Testament people—us!—through this world today, as well as it spoke of His deeds for His Old Testament people then.

As with yesterday’s reading, Hosea 8-10 continues the discussion of the unfaithful nation and its faithful God, chiefly the judgment pronounced against Israel (chapters 8-9) and the summary of the case and appeal to the nation (chapter 10). Again in chapter 8 we see reference to the palace coups that gave Israel five kings in thirteen years, to none of which kings the Lord had directed them. And, the golden calves Jeroboam set up years before in Bethel and Dan are mentioned as particularly offensive. The Lord speaking through Hosea is making clear that Israel itself is to blame for the consequences coming upon the nation (for example, 8:7). The nation will return to Egypt, not literally but figuratively; one commentator says the “return to Egypt” is a return to bondage but this time in Assyria (8:13; 9:3), while another commentator says Egypt symbolizes death and the grave. The fruits of the land would not go to the Israelites, and they would no longer offer the sacrifices to the Lord. Note in 9:7 the contempt and disregard the people had for the prophets of the Lord. The Lord’s description in 9:11-16 of his cutting off the offspring of the people is striking. Chapter 10 begins with what probably is by now some familiar vineyard imagery. The cries of despair in 10:8 are quoted by our Lord is Luke 23:30 (confer Revelation 6:16). Plowing imagery is used in 10:11 and verses following to describe the imminent captivity and to call for the people to repent and thereby be blessed again. Unlike the people to whom Hosea prophesied, we do well to hear and answer that call, sorrowing over our sins and believing in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

Today is All Saints’ Day, not to be confused with Día de los Muertos (don't get me started on the content and placement of that linked story!), although the latter seems in some fashion to take in the former. We’re planning on observing the Day this coming Sunday at Grace, but you can still pray as follows today.

O Almighty God, Who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, grant us grace so to follow Thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those unspeakable joys which Thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love Thee; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. (TLH, p.93.)

God bless your All Saints’ Day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM