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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Jeremiah 24

The vision of the two baskets of figs (Jer. 24), one “very good figs, like those that ripen early” (Jer. 24:2—the early ones ripened in June and were viewed as a delicacy, cf. Isa. 28:4) and the other basket full of figs “so bad they could not be eaten” (Jer. 24:2), is plain enough. The good figs point to the Israelites who have already been sent away into exile in “the land of the Babylonians” (Jer. 24:5). God will watch over them and bring them back. He will give them a heart to know the Lord. “They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart” (Jer. 24:7). By contrast, the poor figs point to Zedekiah and his officials and the remainder of the people in Jerusalem. They will become “a reproach and a byword, an object of ridicule and cursing” (Jer. 24:9). They will not remain in the land. They will be banished, and God will follow them with “sword, famine and plague” (Jer. 24:10).

This analogy calls forth two reflections. First, it is a reversal of popular expectation, both in Jerusalem and in the exilic community in Babylon. The Jerusalemites were tempted to think that they were the elite, since they had been spared: God had not sent them into exile. The exiles were the rubbish; those left in the land were the faithful remnant. The exiles were tempted to think the same thing. They did not want to contemplate the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, for then there would be no “home” to go home to. So they tended to idealize the people who were left behind, praying that God would one day restore the exiles to the faithful remnant in Jerusalem. But God here says that the real situation is precisely the reverse. Those left behind in Jerusalem are disgusting and will be destroyed. The good figs are in exile, and God will bring them back to the land. In short, the remnant is in exile. The same theme (without the imagery of the figs) is developed in Babylon by Jeremiah’s contemporary, Ezekiel: e.g., Ezekiel 11:14–21.

Second, this is such an astounding reversal of popular expectations that it prompts the reader to think of a host of other reversals in the Bible. One thinks of the mighty Egyptian empire against the Israelite slaves; of the rich man and Lazarus; of the beatitudes of Jesus that promise the kingdom to the poor in spirit. Think of as many such reversals as you can, both within the pages of Scripture and in later history. God delights to exalt the humble and to humble the exalted. After all, our Redeemer died on a cross. So why should thoughtful Christians scramble for power and position, instead of for humility and faithfulness?

Devotional: Acts 15

Here I shall squeeze two separate meditations into this space, one on each of the primary passages.

In Acts 15, it is critically important to understand what the dispute was about that called into existence what has since been labeled “the Jerusalem Council.” Some (Jewish) men traveled from Judea to Antioch and began teaching the believers there that even though they believed in Jesus they could not be saved unless they were circumcised in compliance with the law of Moses (Acts 15:1). Later history has attached the name Judaizers to these people.

From the perspective of the Judaizers, Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and one could not really follow this Jewish Messiah without becoming a Jew. Doubtless some Jews felt threatened by this influx of uncircumcised Gentiles into the church: the Jewish self-identity was in terrible danger of being diluted and even lost. If these Gentiles all became Jews, however, as signaled by circumcision, that danger would dissolve.

Yet the issue is deeper than the question of Jewish self-identity. It finally develops into the question of how your whole Bible is put together. The Judaizers elevated the law of Moses above Jesus. Jesus could be accepted as the Messiah, only if the result was a group of people even more devoutly committed to obeying the Mosaic Covenant — food laws, circumcision, temple culture and all. By contrast, the leaders point in another direction.

The law was never well obeyed by the Jews (Acts 15:10); why impose it on the Gentiles? More importantly, the revelation reflected in the old covenant points to Jesus. He is its goal, not its servant. Peter reminds the assembled crowd that in the Cornelius episode God poured out his Spirit on the Gentiles without their being circumcised (15:7-8). At issue, finally, is the freedom of God’s grace (Acts 15:11).

The reports of Paul and Barnabas prove helpful. James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus — by this time apparently the chief elder of the Jerusalem church — offers both a telling exposition of an Old Testament text and his own pastoral judgment (Acts 15:13-21). The combination wins the day — though the argument flares up repeatedly during the next few decades. Understand these issues aright, and your Bible comes together.

Judges 11:30-31, 34-40 is a stellar example of a promise that should not have been made, and a promise that should not have been kept. Despite strong biblical insistence that one should keep one’s vows, a vow to do something evil should not be kept but repented of, lest one commit two sins instead of one. Moreover, here is further evidence of the descending spiral of theological and moral stupidity in Israel at the time of judges.

Related Resources

Rethinking Jephthah’s Foolish Vow

For centuries Christians have puzzled over Jephthah's brutal sacrifice of his own daughter in Judges 11:29-40. But is there another way to understand this story?

Are Christians Forbidden to Eat Blood?

Jesus had declared all foods clean. So why does Acts 15:29 forbid Gentile believers from eating blood?

Judges 11

Jephthah Delivers Israel

11:1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead's wife also bore him sons. And when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.

After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.

12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” 14 Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.

18 “Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land to our country,’ 20 but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 And the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23 So then the LORD, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. 25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? 27 I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.

Jephthah's Tragic Vow

29 Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever1 comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD's, and I will offer it2 up for a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

Footnotes

[1] 11:31 Or whoever
[2] 11:31 Or him

(ESV)

Acts 15

The Jerusalem Council

15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.1 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16   “‘After this I will return,
  and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
  I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17   that the remnant2 of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
    says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers3 who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you4 with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them.5 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Footnotes

[1] 15:3 Or brothers and sisters; also verse 22
[2] 15:17 Or rest
[3] 15:23 Or brothers and sisters; also verses 32, 33, 36
[4] 15:24 Some manuscripts some persons from us have troubled you
[5] 15:33 Some manuscripts insert verse 34: But it seemed good to Silas to remain there

(ESV)

Resources

Rethinking Jephthah’s Foolish Vow

For centuries Christians have puzzled over Jephthah's brutal sacrifice of his own daughter in Judges 11:29-40. But is there another way to understand this story?

Are Christians Forbidden to Eat Blood?

Jesus had declared all foods clean. So why does Acts 15:29 forbid Gentile believers from eating blood?

Jeremiah 24

The Good Figs and the Bad Figs

24:1 After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the LORD showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the LORD. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

“But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror1 to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10 And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”

Footnotes

[1] 24:9 Compare Septuagint; Hebrew horror for evil

(ESV)

Mark 10

Teaching About Divorce

10:1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,1 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Let the Children Come to Me

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

The Rich Young Man

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is2 to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,3 “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

The Request of James and John

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,4 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave5 of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Footnotes

[1] 10:7 Some manuscripts omit and hold fast to his wife
[2] 10:24 Some manuscripts add for those who trust in riches
[3] 10:26 Some manuscripts to one another
[4] 10:43 Greek diakonos
[5] 10:44 Or bondservant, or servant (for the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface)

(ESV)