The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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November 1

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

Reading 1 - 2Ch 30

It was the time of the great reformation which the zeal of Hezekiah had set going. The appeal had gone out to all the tribes of Israel, regardless of boundaries or political loyalties, that they come up to Jerusalem to keep the Passover after the manner of their fathers. And although the messengers of the king had met with much derision and contempt, there were also many in the region of Galilee who responded and came with gladness to join in their new surge of godliness.

But there were hindrances of many kinds, with the result that it was not found possible to hold the Feast at the normal time -- the fourteenth of the first month. However, the Law of Moses provided for a second celebration a month later (a kind of supplementary Breaking of Bread!) for the benefit of those who were unclean through contact with the dead or who were away on a journey when the proper time came round. Strictly speaking, neither of these "exceptive clauses" applied to these late-comers from the north. Even less were they a valid excuse for the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

Nevertheless the Feast went forward in the second month with zeal and rejoicing. It was not that king or priests or people were ignorant of what the Law laid down. There was no disposition to cover up or evade the technical infringement with any kind of clever argument. Rather, the issue became quite simply this: 'Is it better for us and more to the honor and glory of God that we keep the Passover with an irregularity of procedure, or that we do not keep it at all this year?' Faced with this alternative -- especially in such circumstances -- the proper decision was obvious.

Yet it was not to be denied that some commandment of the Law was infringed. Had they desisted altogether, still the Law said that the Passover must be kept. Had they kept it in the second month, then they were found guilty of appropriating to themselves the concessions of Num 9:10 which clearly did not apply in their case. Also, many of those coming from the north were not ceremonially purified to keep the Passover (2Ch 30:18). Here the Law was infringed again in unmistakable fashion. Yet the Feast was kept, "for Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary', and the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people."

None would dispute that, infringements and irregularities aside, Hezekiah and the people did the right thing -- or, rather, the best thing possible -- in the circumstances.

This kind of tension between two conflicting laws and principles of God's appointing, both of which apply in a given case, is not uncommon. It happened under the Law of Moses, as for example the dilemma of circumcision on the eight day when it chanced to fall on a Sabbath; Jesus entered into several controversies between the traditional interpretations of the Sabbath law and his own greater law of loving service to mankind.

Similar situations are not unusual in the life of the disciple today. If a young Christadelphian is commanded by his unbelieving parents to miss the Breaking of Bread so as to accompany them on a visit to an aged relative, which commandment does he break: "Do this in remembrance of me", or "Honour thy father and thy mother"?

Is it right to buy some magazine which will further one's study of the Signs of the Times if this means giving indirect support to some unrighteous cause which that publication happens to advocate?

Should an ecclesia spend thousands of dollars on the purchase of a fine organ to enhance its worship and praise of God if a quarter of its members believe that this money should be devoted instead, say, to the Bible Mission?

We begin to see now the bearing of the foregoing considerations on the vexed question of fellowship. Without any doubt, division and fragmentation arise because brethren resolve in different irreconcilable fashion yet another conflict of principles:

'Here is the beginning of apostasy,' says one; 'I cannot with clear conscience belong to a community which tolerates such denials of truth; no matter what the cost, the Faith must be kept pure.' And he gathers round him some of like persuasion and goes away to make a fresh, clean start -- until the day when a like situation recurs once more, and then the process begins all over again.

Says another: 'Here is teaching which grieves me very much and which may well show itself ultimately to be destructive of our Faith. I do not like it. I am worried by it. Then I must do all in my power to counteract it. Since my brethren who are in a better position than I to exercise a good influence do nothing about it, ought I not to withdraw for the sake of purity of the Faith? But then, there is also my responsibility to the rest who do not assess the situation as urgently as I do. These sheep, what shall they do? Have I no duty to them, to nurture and guide and warn them?'

Thus the conflict rages in the minds and hearts of faithful men. Undefiled separateness? Or love of the brethren in time of difficulty? This is the great issue. How is it to be resolved? Some have one solution, some another, and the outcome is mutual recrimination and division. Stark tragedy!

What, then, is the right way, and therefore the best way, to resolve this greatest of all spiritual contests for the loyalty of the believer? Whatever decision is reached, it is almost certain that a serious disadvantage will be involved. One evaluation, however, seems quite suitable in facilitating our choice, and this is the test of Jesus: "By their fruits ye shall know them."

Apply this test, then, to the "purity-at-all-costs" school of thought. What fruits have been gathered from this tree? The largely unchallenged assumption that root-and-branch disfellowship en masse is demanded by the Bible has left a phenomenal trail of Christadelphian wreckage scattered across the past century. Even at the present day several small boats toss on the waves, when united effort to manage one adequate vessel and keep it seaworthy would be an obvious policy of sanity. More than this, an invariable result of every crusade of every seceder has been a long-sustained campaign of harsh criticism and self-righteous censure against those from whom the separation has been made. "By their fruits ye shall know them!" What a contrast with Daniel who, belonging to a nation hardened in apostasy and riddled with guilt, prayed for them and for himself as though he shared their sin and their condemnation.

So the "separatist" solution has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. But the more "broad-minded" school of thought may also be lacking when "fruits" are considered, for false teachers if allowed to run wild do damage to others as well as themselves, and the lines of demarcation between Truth and Error may become blurred.

Is there an alternative to either of these extremes? As long as an ecclesia holds to a true foundation of faith, that ecclesia should not be abandoned. There may be unfaithfulness latent in any ecclesia, but if the formal basis of fellowship is sound, then as long as faithful brethren exist there, they should continue an unfaltering witness against error. This was the function of the prophets in a decadent Israel, and the counsel of the apostles to ecclesias with doctrinal and moral problems in the first century.

Such an attitude of mind and the solution here proposed can hardly be altogether satisfactory to the out-and-out idealist, but like Hezekiah he must learn to make the best of imperfect situations. The great evils are schism and apathy. Let us shun both, and choose instead the middle road, of loving, careful, unceasing entreaty and witness for truth. If we do this then we have the assurance that Hezekiah had, that God will pardon the failings of those who prepare their hearts to serve Him, even though their service may prove less than perfect.

[From "Conflict of Loyalties", by HAW (Testimony 38:377-380).]

Reading 2 - Dan 10:13

"But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia" (Dan 10:13).

Evidently the angel who spoke to Daniel had had some duty in Persia that involved the kings or rulers of that land. However, having received a commission from God to visit Daniel he was not able to break away to deliver it because of the work he had to do in Persia. But the angel Michael visited this other angel and helped him accomplish his task, so that could get away to visit Daniel.

"The angels, although immortal sinless servants of God, are limited in their physical and intellectual powers. A great number of Scriptures state or imply these truths: Mat 24:36; 1Pe 1:12; Exo 23:20...; 31:17; Gen 32:24,26; 22:12; 18:21" (Harry Whittaker, "Daniel").

"Men, whose actions the angels have to guide, are allowed the unfettered exercise of their wills, and the angels have to influence them to exercise those wills in a given direction, by regulating the circumstances around them. If you set fire to a house, you cause all its inmates to leave, without interfering with their free wills. It is the exercise of their free wills that leads them to endeavour to escape the fire. So the angels, by disposing circumstances, can influence men to act in a certain way without interfering with their volitions. Such a mode of carrying out the work entrusted to them makes their work a delicate and interesting one, and provides scope for the possibility of that kind of human antagonism which requires careful and persistent arrangement to overcome, as in the case of the Persian emperor, who unwittingly was fighting against an angel in the particular policy he pursued" (Robert Roberts, "Ways of Providence" 230).

Reading 3 - Acts 10:34

"Then Peter began to speak: 'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism' " (Acts 10:34).

"God is no respecter of persons" (AV). A good and righteous ancestry is by itself no recommendation to God. A Chicago bank once asked for a letter of recommendation upon a young Bostonian being considered for employment. The Boston investment house to which the bank applied could not say enough about the young man. His father, they wrote, was a Cabot; his mother was a Lowell. Further back was a happy blend of Saltonstalls, Peabodys, and other of Boston's first and foremost families. His recommendation was given without hesitation. Several days later, the Chicago bank sent a note saying the information supplied was altogether inadequate. It read: "We are not contemplating using the young man for breeding purposes. Just for work."

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