The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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May 20

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

Reading 1 - Jos 5:13,14

"Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.' Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, 'What message does my Lord have for his servant?' " (Jos 5:13,14).

Joshua was doing all he could to get his (note the "his"!) army ready... when out of the blue (literally) he encountered a man with a drawn sword.

Joshua asks him, "Are you with us or against us?"

"Neither, actually," the "man" replied. "I am the commander of the army of Yahweh."

And all the time Joshua had thought HE was the commander!

No wonder Joshua falls facedown before the one commissioned to be HIS commander! The general can recognize true authority when he sees it.

Do we think sometimes that we are the "masters (or mistresses) of our own fates... the captains of our own souls"? We are not.

Do we look in the mirrors in the mornings, and tell ourselves, "I am in charge here"? (Like General Haig famously telling all and sundry during the Nixon presidential crisis, 'I am in charge here!') We are not. (Actually, if you have to remind others that you are in charge, then you CERTAINLY are not!)

Joseph told Pharaoh, in effect: "You -- the mightiest ruler the world has ever seen -- are not in charge here!" He told him politely, but he told him just the same.

God rules in the kingdom(s) of men, says Daniel.

And He rules in our lives.

Take time to notice the real "commander", and seek his "orders for the day".

Reading 2 - Isa 10:5-11

"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations. 'Are not my commanders all kings?' he says. 'Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria -- shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?' " (Isa 10:5-11).

"The remarkable similarity between this passage and 2Ki 19:2-37 [which is parallel to Isa 37] (together with other indications) makes it likely that, through the renegade Rabshakeh, Sennacherib actually knew the tenor of this and other prophecies Isaiah had spoken in Jerusalem. Why else should the Assyrian use the self-confident argument: 'Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? The LORD saith to me, 'Go up against this land, and destroy it' (Isa 36:10)" (WIsa 174).

Reading 3 - 2Th 1:3-5

"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering" (2Th 1:3-5).

The Christian community should not be a comfortable club for the conserving of the lives of a few believers. It should be a place of striving, of enduring, of overcoming, where real "fruit" is produced to the glory of God. It should be a place where faith and love are refined in the crucible of trials and hardships. If it is not such a place, then why not?

At first sight the apostle's argument in v 5 is difficult. Surely the presence of sufferings would deny, rather than prove, that God is working to a righteous purpose. The fault is ours if we fail to understand the divine message, if we see instead as the "world" sees. The Bible does not look on sufferings in quite the same way as most modern people do. To us, accustomed as we are to the conveniences of an affluent society, suffering may seem almost an "evil" -- something to be avoided at all costs. It is true that one need not be a masochist -- seeking pain out of some sense of perverted "pleasure." Nevertheless the true Bible message is that suffering, in all its varied forms, is often the means of working out God's eternal purpose. It develops in the sufferer qualities of character. It teaches valuable lessons. In one form or another, it is inevitable; the believer is ordained to it (1Th 3:3).

The faith of a believer is not some fragile thing, to be wrapped in cotton, insulated from all shocks. It is robust, it is alive, it grows and flourishes, and it needs both sunshine and rain. The very troubles that the world heaps upon the believer become, under God's hand, the means by which he may grow into a fruitful vine, a productive plant. Suffering therefore is no evidence that God has forsaken us; it is evidence that He is with us.
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