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In Amos 7:1–9 the prophet intercedes with God to avert two catastrophic judgments. In both cases, the Lord relents (Amos 7:3, 6). But then God deploys a plumb line to show just how crooked Israel is, and promises that he will spare the people no longer (Amos 7:6–9). Two reflections:
(1) If God were endlessly forbearing, there would be no judgment. A lot of people think of God in these terms. God is good, so he is bound to forgive us: that’s his job. So argued Catherine the Great. The Bible insists that such a picture of God is hopelessly flawed. On the other hand, if God executed instantaneous justice, there would be no place for either compassion or forbearing delay. This sort of tension is bound up with many virtues. Genuine courage presupposes fear that is overcome. If there is no fear at all, there can be no courage. Similarly, if there is no wrath, forbearance is no longer a virtue; it dissolves into some strange alchemy of niceness and moral indifference. Thus a large part of what these scenes are saying to the ancient Israelites is that God’s patience is running out. The reason God has not destroyed them already is that he is forbearing. But genuine forbearance presupposes that justice must sooner or later prevail: it is a call for repentance before it is too late.
(2) God here answers the intercessory prayer of Amos and relents—as in a number of other moving passages where God responds to fervent intercession (Gen. 18:23–33; 20:7; Ex. 32:9–14; Job 42:8–9). How does this square with a passage like 1 Samuel 15:29? “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” Indeed, if I were certain I could change God’s mind in some absolute sense, I would be terrified of trying, for I know far, far less than he. Yet the “prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” we are told (James 5:16–18). The point, surely, is that this God is not some cold, deterministic, mechanical, force. He is a personal God who has ordained means as much as ends—means that include our intercession. If we are to pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14), then Luther was right: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. Prayer is laying hold of God’s willingness.” It is not so much a means of talking God into a position repugnant to him, as a God-ordained means of obtaining the blessings that God in the perfection of his virtues is willing to bestow. But that perfection of virtues also means that there may come a point when the collision of holiness and sin issues in implacable wrath that will not be diverted.
The benediction of Hebrews 13:20–21 invites prolonged reflection. Some observations:
(1) The thrust of the prayer is twofold: first, that God would equip “you” (the Christian readers) “with everything good for doing his will”; and second, that he would work “in us what is pleasing to him” (Heb. 13:21, italics added). In other words, there is a tremendous emphasis on doing God’s will, on living in ways that are pleasing to him. Although the prayer is for Christians, the entire focus is on God and what pleases him. The most important prayer for Christians is that they do God’s will, that God will work in them what is pleasing to him.
(2) The change in person from you to us does not mean that the first petition is only for the readers and the second is only for the author. The us is almost certainly inclusive, i.e., embracing both the author and his readers, and thus, implicitly, Christians everywhere. The switch from you to us may well be motivated, at least in part, by a desire to avoid giving the impression that the author is praying for others to do the will of God without praying the same thing for himself.
(3) God is referred to as “the God of peace” (Heb. 13:20). The reference is not primarily to psychological peace. The fundamental peace at issue (as chaps. 9–10 presuppose) is peace with God—the reconciliation of guilty rebels to their Maker and Redeemer. The author petitions the God who reconciles sinners to equip them to be conformed to his will.
(4) This God “brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus” (Heb. 13:20). At one level this is a fairly constant New Testament theme: God raised up Jesus from the dead. But this passage stipulates that God did so “through the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb. 13:20). The reference is to Jesus’ blood, to Jesus’ death, which inaugurates the new covenant (as chaps. 8–10 make clear)—and this new covenant is not some temporary expedient but “eternal” in its binding authority. At first it seems strange to think of God raising up Jesus through Jesus’ blood, through Jesus’ death. But the point is probably that the eternal covenant inaugurated by Jesus’ successful death, his completed sacrifice, his perfect atonement, expressed in his triumphant cry “It is finished!”, is the covenantal bedrock that means it is right for God to raise up Jesus and vindicate him.
(5) Jesus himself is “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” Many images flood to mind. God himself promised to shepherd his people; indeed, he would send the Davidic king to exercise this role (Ezek. 34). Above all, the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep (John 10; see the meditation for March 20). Small wonder the prayer is offered “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Heb. 13:21).
11:1 Then all Israel gathered together to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. 2 In times past, even when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the LORD your God said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over my people Israel.’” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD. And they anointed David king over Israel, according to the word of the LORD by Samuel.
4 And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is, Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land. 5 The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You will not come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 6 David said, “Whoever strikes the Jebusites first shall be chief and commander.” And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, so he became chief. 7 And David lived in the stronghold; therefore it was called the city of David. 8 And he built the city all around from the Millo in complete circuit, and Joab repaired the rest of the city. 9 And David became greater and greater, for the LORD of hosts was with him.
10 Now these are the chiefs of David's mighty men, who gave him strong support in his kingdom, together with all Israel, to make him king, according to the word of the LORD concerning Israel. 11 This is an account of David's mighty men: Jashobeam, a Hachmonite, was chief of the three.1 He wielded his spear against 300 whom he killed at one time.
12 And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite. 13 He was with David at Pas-dammim when the Philistines were gathered there for battle. There was a plot of ground full of barley, and the men fled from the Philistines. 14 But he took his2 stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and killed the Philistines. And the LORD saved them by a great victory.
15 Three of the thirty chief men went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, when the army of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 16 David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. 17 And David said longingly, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” 18 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and took it and brought it to David. But David would not drink it. He poured it out to the LORD 19 and said, “Far be it from me before my God that I should do this. Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.
20 Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty.3 And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name beside the three. 21 He was the most renowned4 of the thirty5 and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three.
22 And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man6 of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two heroes of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. 23 And he struck down an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits7 tall. The Egyptian had in his hand a spear like a weaver's beam, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear. 24 These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada and won a name beside the three mighty men. 25 He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.
26 The mighty men were Asahel the brother of Joab, Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, 27 Shammoth of Harod,8 Helez the Pelonite, 28 Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, 29 Sibbecai the Hushathite, Ilai the Ahohite, 30 Maharai of Netophah, Heled the son of Baanah of Netophah, 31 Ithai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, 32 Hurai of the brooks of Gaash, Abiel the Arbathite, 33 Azmaveth of Baharum, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, 34 Hashem9 the Gizonite, Jonathan the son of Shagee the Hararite, 35 Ahiam the son of Sachar the Hararite, Eliphal the son of Ur, 36 Hepher the Mecherathite, Ahijah the Pelonite, 37 Hezro of Carmel, Naarai the son of Ezbai, 38 Joel the brother of Nathan, Mibhar the son of Hagri, 39 Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, 40 Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, 41 Uriah the Hittite, Zabad the son of Ahlai, 42 Adina the son of Shiza the Reubenite, a leader of the Reubenites, and thirty with him, 43 Hanan the son of Maacah, and Joshaphat the Mithnite, 44 Uzzia the Ashterathite, Shama and Jeiel the sons of Hotham the Aroerite, 45 Jediael the son of Shimri, and Joha his brother, the Tizite, 46 Eliel the Mahavite, and Jeribai, and Joshaviah, the sons of Elnaam, and Ithmah the Moabite, 47 Eliel, and Obed, and Jaasiel the Mezobaite.
12:1 Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish. And they were among the mighty men who helped him in war. 2 They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul's kinsmen. 3 The chief was Ahiezer, then Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah; also Jeziel and Pelet, the sons of Azmaveth; Beracah, Jehu of Anathoth, 4 Ishmaiah of Gibeon, a mighty man among the thirty and a leader over the thirty; Jeremiah,10 Jahaziel, Johanan, Jozabad of Gederah, 5 Eluzai,11 Jerimoth, Bealiah, Shemariah, Shephatiah the Haruphite; 6 Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam, the Korahites; 7 And Joelah and Zebadiah, the sons of Jeroham of Gedor.
8 From the Gadites there went over to David at the stronghold in the wilderness mighty and experienced warriors, expert with shield and spear, whose faces were like the faces of lions and who were swift as gazelles upon the mountains: 9 Ezer the chief, Obadiah second, Eliab third, 10 Mishmannah fourth, Jeremiah fifth, 11 Attai sixth, Eliel seventh, 12 Johanan eighth, Elzabad ninth, 13 Jeremiah tenth, Machbannai eleventh. 14 These Gadites were officers of the army; the least was a match for a hundred men and the greatest for a thousand. 15 These are the men who crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it was overflowing all its banks, and put to flight all those in the valleys, to the east and to the west.
16 And some of the men of Benjamin and Judah came to the stronghold to David. 17 David went out to meet them and said to them, “If you have come to me in friendship to help me, my heart will be joined to you; but if to betray me to my adversaries, although there is no wrong in my hands, then may the God of our fathers see and rebuke you.” 18 Then the Spirit clothed Amasai, chief of the thirty, and he said,
“We are yours, O David,
and with you, O son of Jesse!
Peace, peace to you,
and peace to your helpers!
For your God helps you.”
Then David received them and made them officers of his troops.
19 Some of the men of Manasseh deserted to David when he came with the Philistines for the battle against Saul. (Yet he did not help them, for the rulers of the Philistines took counsel and sent him away, saying, “At peril to our heads he will desert to his master Saul.”) 20 As he went to Ziklag, these men of Manasseh deserted to him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai, chiefs of thousands in Manasseh. 21 They helped David against the band of raiders, for they were all mighty men of valor and were commanders in the army. 22 For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.
23 These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the LORD. 24 The men of Judah bearing shield and spear were 6,800 armed troops. 25 Of the Simeonites, mighty men of valor for war, 7,100. 26 Of the Levites 4,600. 27 The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, and with him 3,700. 28 Zadok, a young man mighty in valor, and twenty-two commanders from his own fathers' house. 29 Of the Benjaminites, the kinsmen of Saul, 3,000, of whom the majority had to that point kept their allegiance to the house of Saul. 30 Of the Ephraimites 20,800, mighty men of valor, famous men in their fathers' houses. 31 Of the half-tribe of Manasseh 18,000, who were expressly named to come and make David king. 32 Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. 33 Of Zebulun 50,000 seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David12 with singleness of purpose. 34 Of Naphtali 1,000 commanders with whom were 37,000 men armed with shield and spear. 35 Of the Danites 28,600 men equipped for battle. 36 Of Asher 40,000 seasoned troops ready for battle. 37 Of the Reubenites and Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh from beyond the Jordan, 120,000 men armed with all the weapons of war.
38 All these, men of war, arrayed in battle order, came to Hebron with a whole heart to make David king over all Israel. Likewise, all the rest of Israel were of a single mind to make David king. 39 And they were there with David for three days, eating and drinking, for their brothers had made preparation for them. 40 And also their relatives, from as far as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on donkeys and on camels and on mules and on oxen, abundant provisions of flour, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, and wine and oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.
13:1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent1 have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us2 that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
22 I appeal to you, brothers,3 bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.
7:1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, he was forming locusts when the latter growth was just beginning to sprout, and behold, it was the latter growth after the king's mowings. 2 When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,
“O Lord GOD, please forgive!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
3 The LORD relented concerning this:
“It shall not be,” said the LORD.
4 This is what the Lord GOD showed me: behold, the Lord GOD was calling for a judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. 5 Then I said,
“O Lord GOD, please cease!
How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!”
6 The LORD relented concerning this:
“This also shall not be,” said the Lord GOD.
7 This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,
“Behold, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass by them;
9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,
“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”
12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was1 no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now therefore hear the word of the LORD.
“You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
17 Therefore thus says the LORD:
“‘Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when1 Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,2 who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.3
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”4
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant5 depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.6 She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents7 saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”8 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature9 and in favor with God and man.