The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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May 21

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

Reading 1 - Jos 7

"Joshua 7 presents to us a drastically different scene from those which have engaged our attention in the previous chapters, yea, so startling is the contrast that we are reminded of that old adage, 'Truth is stranger than fiction.' Up to this point everything had gone smoothly and blessedly for Israel, but now their progress is suddenly halted. Hitherto we have witnessed them, under God, going from strength to strength and glory to glory. Strict obedience to the Divine commands had marked their every movement; here, the very reverse obtained. They had duly attended to the essential matter of circumcision and had kept the appointed Passover feast. On His part, the Lord had wrought wondrously for them, bringing them through the Jordan dry-shod and overthrowing the principal fortress of the enemy without a blow having to be struck by Israel. But a startling contrast now confronts us: immediately following the memorable victory at the formidable Jericho, Israel suffer humiliating defeat at the much weaker town of Ai. A member of the tribe of Judah had committed a grievous crime, and the whole nation suffer in consequence. As there was a serpent in Eden and a Judas among the apostles, so there was an Achan in the midst of an obedient Israel" (AW Pink).

Reading 2 - Isa 11:6-9

There is obvious connection among Isa 7:14; Isa 9:6,7; and Isa 11:6-9.

The first two prophecies were, firstly and in a limited sense, about the child Hezekiah. in Isa 7, Isaiah is commanded to bring his message of hope to king Ahaz. The original "virgin" in the context would have been his bride-to-be. Ahaz seems to scoff at Isaiah's offer of an encouraging message -- he wants nothing to do with the God of Israel. But the child which his young wife would bear to him would be Hezekiah; this special child of promise was destined to deliver his people from the Assyrian threat.

Isa 9:6,7 -- in the immediate historical context -- carries forward the promises of Isaiah. The new child would become king, would be specially strengthened by Yahweh (as his symbolic name implied: "Immanuel" -- "God is with us!"), and would be bring peace to a war-torn and broken land!

In these first two passages also, the connections with the coming Messiah are obvious and powerful -- so much so that sometimes the original history and Old Testament connections are not given the full weight they deserve. But it is worth recognizing their primary -- if only partial -- fulfillment in the days of Hezekiah and Sennacherib. And seeing the "big picture" of Isaiah helps in this respect.

This brings us to the third "child" prophecy, in Isa 11. The words of Isaiah describe a scene of complete tranquility, when all the savagery of the beasts of the field has been removed:

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:6-9).

It is certainly a picture, in broad and general terms, of man's reclamation of dominion over the earth, and his subjugation of the animal kingdom (Gen 1:28).

But it is more than that; it is a picture, in specific terms, of Christ's victory over sin and death. (And this is precisely what a failure to link together the Scriptures -- and look for the larger context, the "forest" and not just the "trees" -- may cause us to miss.) In the final and complete fulfillment, Christ is the son born of the virgin in Isa 7:14; he is also the child born "unto us" in Isa 9:6. Then, considering this context, he is just as surely the "little child" in Isa 11:6, and the "infant" ("sucking child": AV) and finally the "young child" ("weaned child": AV) in Isa 11:8. So the beautiful vision of these verses is not impersonal. It is not just about ANY young child in the Kingdom of God -- or even ALL young children there; it is about Christ!

Isa 11:6 shows Christ as the "little child" because of his perfect trust in God (cp Mat 19:13,14); he is the "babe" ordained in strength to still the enemy and to have dominion over all creation (Psa 8:2,6-8).

Isa 11:8 shows Christ as the "sucking child" and then the "weaned child" -- feeding first on the "milk" and then on the "meat" of the word, growing in spirit and wisdom and grace (Luke 2:40). Both "cobra" and "viper" belong to the "seed of the serpent" (Gen 3:15; Mat 3:7; 23:33). Jesus, under the nurture and admonition of his Heavenly Father, steadily grew in spiritual strength, and steadily faced one by one the trials of the "adversary" in his flesh. He had nothing to fear from the power of the serpent, for he faced it and overcame it with a greater power -- faith in God's word and promises. And, finally, in the kingdom age, the "den" of the serpent will hold no fear whatsoever for Christ, or for those who like him have become "little children" in faith!


Note: Here is another question: is the description of the great predators lying down at peace with their prey, in Isa 11, to be taken literally, or only symbolically? While not ruling out some sort of more literal fulfillment, the context surely points toward a symbolic fulfillment:

(a) If the "little child" in Isa 7 and Isa 9 is, ultimately, Jesus Christ, then what is the real point of HIS proximity to the den of the poisonous serpent, without danger to himself... if it be not Gen 3:15? In other words, Jesus -- the child born of the virgin (the "seed of the woman": Gen 3:15!) -- is the one who will bring true peace (Isa 9:6,7) by crushing the head of the "serpent" of sin. And if the "child" and the "serpent" are to be best understood figuratively, then what about the "wolf" and the "leopard" and the "lion" and the "calf" and the "yearling"?

(b) The whole of the immediate context -- Isa 7-12 -- pictures an imminent threat from the Assyrian invaders, and a people living in fear of their depredations: in effect, a flock of helpless sheep in dread of the wild beasts that will attack and devour them. Against this threat the LORD will raise up a "prince of peace" (Isa 9:6) -- through whom these "wild beasts" will be themselves destroyed. Consider how closely these verses mirror the prophecy of Micah (a contemporary of Isaiah):

"But you, Bethlehem... out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times [cp Isa 9:6: 'everlasting Father']. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth [cp Isa 7:14: 'a virgin shall conceive'; also cp with Mic 4:9,10]... He will stand and shepherd his flock [as a shepherd protects his flock from wild beasts like the wolf or leopard or lion!] in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God... And he will be their peace [cp Isa 9:6: 'prince of peace']. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. They will rule [or 'crush' -- like Gen 3:15 again!] the land of Assyria with the sword... He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders... The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep [cp the language of Isa 11:6-9], which mauls and mangles as it goes, and no one can rescue... I will take vengeance in anger and wrath upon the nations that have not obeyed me" (Mic 5:2-15).

Reading 3 - 2Th 3:6-10

"In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat' " (2Th 3:6-10).

The saying of Paul emphasizes "will": He does not suggest that those who CANNOT work should not eat, but only that those who can but WILL not work should not eat. Also, the continuous tense gives the thought of habitual attitude. That man is intended for labor, and that he is intended to find satisfaction in his daily toil, is suggested by God's words to Adam: "in the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen 3:19).

This Bible teaching, true as it is, must be balanced by the teaching on the necessity of giving aid to those who are in need. Since it is unwillingness to work rather than lack of opportunity which is reprimanded, those who are unemployed through no fault of their own should be provided for by those who have the means. The example of the Jerusalem ecclesia at the very beginning (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32; 6:1-6) is one to be emulated (cp 2Co 8:14,15; James 1:5-12; Deu 15:8,10).

Although Paul makes no direct connection between the two themes, it appears that the Thessalonians' expectation of Christ's return and the prevailing attitude of laziness and unruliness were in fact related. The unwillingness of some to work -- attributable in part to the general Greek ethic of the time -- was further encouraged in this unhealthy direction by the belief that the "parousia" (the coming of Christ) was very near. Thus there seemed little or no need to provide for the future. Against this wrong philosophy Paul argued:

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