Daily Bible Readings – Monday April 2, 2012

Prayer Psalm: 69
Prayer Point: “I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help.” Is this where you are right now? Do you know someone who is? Lift up Psalm 69 as your prayer. After you cry out to God, meditate on this: It’s Holy Week and this psalm describes the experiences of Christ during that week (verse 9 – Jesus cleanses the temple; verse 21 – the crucifixion). When Christ seems far away, remember that he entered our world and suffered in our place.

Mark 11:12-25

During his life on earth, Jesus filled three roles: prophet, priest and king. As king Jesus rules creation and calls us to follow and obey him. As priest, he offers himself as a sacrifice for our sin and prays to the Father on our behalf. As prophet, Jesus speaks the words of God the Father to us.

In Mark 11 Jesus is not unlike an Old Testament prophet who not only spoke their messages, they often acted them out. That’s what is going on with the fig tree. Jesus is not angry with the fig tree. He is angry with what the fig tree represents. The fig tree is a stand-in for Israel and the missing fruit were the missing acts of love for God and love for neighbor. Most importantly Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations; to show the world through their very lives the love of God. But that dream had long been lost and Israel was a fig tree without fruit.

What does Jesus find in the temple that confirms that Israel is “fruitless”? What was the temple supposed to be? What has Israel made it instead? Uncircumcised Gentiles were not allowed to worship God in the inner courts of the temple. There was an outer court set aside for them where they could pray. The problem was that the market was set up in the court of the Gentiles. Not only were people being ripped off, the Gentiles were being crowded out.

What do you think is the significance of the withered fig tree?

What two heart attitudes does Jesus insist must be present when we pray?

2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Corinth was a prosperous Greek city located on a small strip of land that connected the northern and southern parts of Greece. The city as an important commercial center in southern Greece, Achaia, because it had ports with access to Rome on the west and Asia Minor (Turkey) in the east.

Let’s get some of the basic details of this letter down before we move on. What two men authored this letter? Who is the letter addressed to? Already we have a window into Paul’s missionary strategy. In Acts 18 we learn that Paul planted the church in Corinth, the largest city in the region of Achaia. The idea was to plant churches in the large cities with those churches carrying the gospel to the outlying areas. We see that this strategy is already working as there are Christians scattered through the region of Achaia.

Now that the formalities of Roman letter writing are out of the way, Paul begins the letter in verse 3 with a blessing. Why does Paul call God the “the God of all comfort”? What is the purpose of God’s comforting power in our lives? What two things flow into our lives from Christ? What is the purpose of distress in Paul’s and Timothy’s lives? How has God’s comfort in their lives impacted the Corinthians? What does Paul see in the Corinthian church that makes him hopeful in verse 7?

Lamentations 1:1-2, 6-12       Jerusalem’s Devastation

Let’s begin with a definition of what a lamentation is or what it is not.  According Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1975): lamentation (noun) an act or instance of lamenting. [How helpful is that?  It begs the question.]  lament (verb) to mourn aloud: WAIL; to express sorrow or mourning for, often demonstratively: MOURN; to regret strongly.  (noun) a crying out in grief: WAILING; DIRGE; ELEGY; COMPLAINT.  That is probably what most of us think of when we think of lament or lamentation.  The biblical definition goes a little further: “Lamentations is not an emotional outburst but a formal expression of grief in a high literary style.  However, each lament moves rapidly from one topic to the next, revealing that the writer’s soul is still in turmoil.  Like most elegies, the lyrics in Lamentations deal with profound loss by recollecting past glories and cataloging what is now gone forever, lamenting the finality of the losses while at the same time seeking consolation in present sorrows and some hope for the future.” [ESV Study Bible Introduction to Lamentations p. 1477]  So although we may associate mourning and grieving with lamenting, the biblical view includes an element of hope.

Lamentations is ascribed to Jeremiah though the book does not itself identify its author.  It was written sometime between the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.) and the renaissance of temple worship (in 516 B.C.)  Clearly, if Jeremiah is the author, the earlier date is more likely since he will be dead by 516 B.C.  The lamentations are poems written acrostically which means little to those of us confined to a language other than Hebrew.  It means that the first verse begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet; the second with the second and so forth until the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are expended.  What this means to us is that a great deal of thought and skill went into the writing of Lamentations.  The writer of Lamentations was no slouch.   There are five chapters of Lamentations.  Three chapters (1, 2, 4, and 5) each have 22 verses; the third chapter has three times as many verses as the other four.  If this is significant, it is lost on me.  [It is very important to remember that the “versing” of the scriptures was done long after the bible was compiled. – j.t.]

Verses 1-2 describes Jerusalem after the Babylonians have destroyed it (and its temple).  She is like a widow where once she was like a princess, she is now a slave.  Now she weeps and is deserted by her “lovers”; there is none to comfort her.  She is surrounded by her enemies.  All of this was foretold by Jeremiah and by other prophets, even Moses some 1,300 years before (Deuteronomy 32:15-38).  Verses 3-4 describe the desolation and the fear in Judah.  Judah now dwells among the nations (she had always thought herself better than they); there is no rest and as prophesied, she is overtaken by her pursuers.  Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) is desolate and there is no joy “and she herself suffers bitterly.” (Lamentations 1:4b ESV)  Verses 5-6 tell us that the writer knew why all this happened: “Because the LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions”. (Lamentations 1:5a ESV)  Verse 6 tells us that the princes are without strength.  The heartbreak is that the people could not see that their strength was in the LORD and so relied upon their own, which always, like fuel, runs out.  David wrote about 400 years before: “The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalms 27:1b KJV)  Who were Jerusalem’s “lovers”? (The “nations” and their false gods.)  How is it that even now Judah does not repent?  (Pride)

Verse 7 tells us that “Jerusalem remembers” all the precious things from days of old.  Well, one of those things they did not remember was Psalm 27:1b.  We have seen time and again that the faith was poorly transmitted from one generation to the next.  In Josiah’s time the Book of the Law had laid lost in the temple for many years.  Josiah was so moved (or upset, or broken for Judah’s sake) that he donned a mourning attitude and thus launched his religious reforms throughout the land.  But even his sons “did evil in the sight of the LORD”.   Where is the disconnect?  “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21 ESV emphasis added)  Verse 7 continues telling us that Jerusalem’s enemies mocked and gloated at her downfall.  What does Jerusalem remember?  (The precious things from days of old.  “The good old days.”  They, like us, remember what they want to remember, not necessarily the truth of the thing.)  Why could none help her?  Why was Jerusalem mocked and gloated over?  (None could help her because it was the LORD’s doing.  Jerusalem was mocked and gloated over as a result of her pride – she would not humble herself before God.)

Verse 8 says that Jerusalem had sinned grievously and that all who had honored her now despise her and have seen her “nakedness”.  This nakedness harkens to the image of a marriage: the LORD was Jerusalem’s (more specifically Judah’s and Israel’s) husband.  This imagery is also alluded to in verse 2 “Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her…” (ESV)  Seeing her nakedness means she had broken her marriage vows (covenant) with the LORD.  Idolatry was the means by which the covenant was broken.  We also see that Jerusalem discovers shame: “for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.” (ESV)  Why is the image of marriage so important?  (It describes the relationship of Israel [& Judah] to God.  This is a constant theme throughout the entire bible.)  What is the “nakedness” that was seen?

Verse 9 reiterates the violation of the marriage vows: “Her uncleanness was in her skirts.” (ESV)  There is a plea: “O LORD, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!” (ESV)  The ESV Study Bible suggests that the enemy was Babylon.  I think it goes much deeper than that.  Jerusalem was her own enemy.  She it was who did not listen to Moses and the prophets but “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you.” (Jeremiah 44:16 ESV) That, I think, is the enemy.  The result of the inattentiveness of Judah shows itself in that the present enemy (the Babylonians) have desecrated the temple “those whom you forbade to enter your congregation.” (v. 10b ESV)
What is meant by uncleanness? (Sinned grievously v. 8 – Idolatry – though not stated, is the prevailing sin against God.  Except for Josiah, all kings after him, “did evil in the sight of the LORD.)  Are we today guilty of the same thing?  How?

Verses 11 & 12 talk of the starvation rampant in Jerusalem during the fall of the city.  There is something like self-pity in verse 12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.”  There is a cross-reference in The ESV Study Bible to Daniel 9:12-15.  Daniel would have been written in about the same time-frame and certainly from a different perspective.  Daniel, at this time, was actually an exile in Babylon. “He has confirmed his words, which he spoke against us and against our rulers who ruled us, by bringing upon us a great calamity.  For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem.  As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.  Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.  And now, O LORD our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”  It was pretty clear to Daniel, who was hundreds of miles away, what was going on.  What does “starvation” refer to?  How is it symbolic of spiritual privation?  How does the passage from Daniel fit this situation?  (I think the people were so “dull of hearing” that they could not imagine that this chastisement from the LORD was warranted.  Daniel and the writer of Lamentations were keenly sensitive of Judah’s sins.)

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