The Agora
Daily Bible Reading Exhortations

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November 17

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

Reading 1 - Neh 4:9

"But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat" (Neh 4:9).

"Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by the king to with the authority to rebuild the wall. He is vehemently opposed by two individuals, Sanballat and Tobiah, and their cronies. The returning Israelites are forced to complete their work in odd fashion -- half of them work while half of them stand guard.

"Perhaps you have struggled with the balance between faith and practical action. When faced with a situation, do we take immediate action or wait for an answer to our prayers?

"The amazing thing about this little verse is how practical it is for all of us. We all face Sanballats and Tobiahs in life. We are trying to do the best we can and for every block we built on the wall, they tear two down. We are faced with the question of what we are to do about it. We can determine ourselves to work twice as hard. We can sit back and pray that God will provide and answer. Nehemiah provides us with a little key that it might not be one or the other, but both.

"So many times when faced with life's adversity, we will try to overcome with our own strength. We don't necessarily seek the Lord's guidance in our endeavor, but depend on ourselves or others. On the other hand, we may be tempted to wash our hands completely of the whole thing and simply ask God to fix everything.

"Nehemiah didn't do just one, but both. He prayed and asked God's guidance and then acted. His actions were not impetuous or prideful, but an act of faith. We recall that the 'faith' chapter of Heb 11 is not just men and women who sat around, but people of action. Abel offered. Noah prepared an ark. Abraham obeyed and went out. Sarah conceived. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter and forsook Egypt. Rahab received the spies. Their faith in God could not be confined to the mind alone.

"It would benefit us all to pray to God and post a guard. Ask God for the strength, guidance and blessing of success in whatsoever we put our hands to do and then get to work" (Kyle Tucker).

Reading 2 - Hos 14

"O Ephraim... I am like a green pine tree; your fruitfulness comes from me" (Hos 14:8).

"Our fruit is found from our God as to union. The fruit of the branch is directly traceable to the root. Sever the connection, the branch dies, and no fruit is produced. By virtue of our union with Christ we bring forth fruit. Every bunch of grapes have been first in the root, it has passed through the stem, and flowed through the sap vessels, and fashioned itself externally into fruit, but it was first in the stem; so also every good work was first in Christ, and then is brought forth in us.

"Our fruit comes from God as to spiritual providence. When the dew-drops fall from heaven, when the cloud looks down from on high, and is about to distil its liquid treasure, when the bright sun swells the berries of the cluster, each heavenly boon may whisper to the tree and say, 'From me is thy fruit found.' The fruit owes much to the root -- that is essential to fruitfulness -- but it owes very much also to external influences. How much we owe to God's grace-providence! in which He provides us constantly with quickening, teaching, consolation, strength, or whatever else we want. To this we owe our all of usefulness or virtue.

"Our fruit comes from God as to wise husbandry. The gardener's sharp-edged knife promotes the fruitfulness of the tree, by thinning the clusters, and by cutting off superfluous shoots. So is it with that pruning which the Lord gives to thee. 'My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit' [Joh 15:1,2]. Since our God is the author of our spiritual graces, let us give to Him all the glory of our salvation" (CH Spurgeon).


"Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them" (v 9).

"Paul's application of this to the transformation of the faithful in Christ from mortality to immortality gives it a far deeper significance than just the political resurrection of Israel to which it primarily applies. We are taught by this, as we are so often taught elsewhere, that as Hosea was an allegory to Israel, so Israel is an allegory to us. Therein lies the great significance of the final words of the prophecy... Who IS wise? God said sadly through Hosea -- 'My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge' (Hos 4:6).

"How much do we care about knowing these things? How much real, sincere effort have we put in this past week to learn and understand the lessons of God's Word through which we have been passing in our daily readings? To what extent have we meditated upon it and prayed for understanding? Let us face these questions honestly. Are we truly ANXIOUS and concerned to learn more and more about God and His Word?

"It is so easy to just go through the motions and think we are in the Truth, without ever having the real love of and yearning toward the knowledge of God which is essential to salvation. This is what marks off the true disciple from the common run of mankind. These divine words are life. They are essential meat and drink. In them alone is the power of love and of holiness and godliness and of overcoming the flesh" (GV Growcott).

Reading 3 - 1Th 4:9

"Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other" (1Th 4:9).

"Taught by God" represents one word in the Greek, a word that occurs here alone in all the New Testament. (A similar expression is found in John 6:45.) God's coming Kingdom will be marked by the fact that all Zion's children will be taught of God (Isa 54:13). There is a natural interpretation of this verse -- and one which renders unnecessary any theorizing about "an indwelling Spirit": God, in all His loving provisions for mankind (Mat 5:44,45), and especially in the gift of His Son for those who believe (John 3:16; 1Jo 3:16), is constantly teaching us by example how we ought to love one another. "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1Jo 4:7-11).

Do we need anyone to write to US "about brotherly love"? The subject, says Paul, is fundamental. We are taught of God to do it: we are taught by God's own example in giving His only begotten Son to die for us on the cross; by that Son's whole preeminent life; perhaps especially by his washing of his disciples' feet just before he suffered: "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15).

Such matters may be comprehended more easily than almost any other teaching of Scripture. Comprehended easily, no doubt. But how difficult to apply the lessons!

"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). This is Christ's test of discipleship. We might want to propose other tests, with which we would feel more comfortable; but how wise and fitting is this one. What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us to love the men and women who share it? What sort of faith do we have if it does not compel us, out of an eager yearning in love, to share it with the poor, suffering souls around us?

The reaction of many of us, whenever the subject of love is mentioned, is either one of shyness or fear or else a feeling that it is not practical. If we are shy or afraid, it is because we have a wrong conception of its nature. We think that it has something to do with emotion and sentiment. It has not! Neither is it impractical any more than Jesus himself or Paul or Peter or John were impractical. Just how practical, how sweetly reasonable, this love is, is seen in the previous chapter: "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints" (1Th 3:12,13).

The end: their being established in holiness at the Judgment. The means to that end? Their increasing in love. The end cannot be attained without the means.

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