Day 81: John 7-8

Chapter 7 opens with a great interaction between Jesus and his brothers.  Listen to their concern and consider why Jesus disagrees with them.  One of John’s purposes has been to allow Jesus to speak for Himself, and you can tuck this into the mix as Jesus’ character is developed.

You’ll hopefully remember that the Feast of Booths was a weeklong celebration of how God had provided for Israel in the desert, when they lived in “booths” – in other places called “tabernacles” or just “tents.”  According to Leviticus 23, the Israelites were to build tents and spend the week in rest and feasting, and to “take the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and…rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.

This is the context of the sermon in chapter 7, which is spurred on by statements of the Jews, such as: “Some were saying, ‘He is a good man,…But others, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’” and “How is it that this man has learning, when He has never studied?”  And another: “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?” Pay attention to John’s observation for why people were afraid both to speak openly about Him and to imprison Him.

Chapter 8 is again driven by statements of the Jews: Consider their declaration that “Abraham is our father” with the memory of Genesis fresh in your mind.  Listen for the subtlety in “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”  And then listen to the tense change when Jesus asserts: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Is that an echo of Exodus 3 – the voice out of the burning bush?

In most Bibles, a note is attached to verses 7:53 through 8:11 that reads “The earliest manuscripts do not include this passage.”  This gospel was written over 1,900 years ago, and was copied down by Christians who were often on the run.  No full manuscripts exist from John’s lifetime, and the earliest fragments do not include this passage.  It is possible that this story is an authentic tradition that a copyist inserted, but the grammar and word use are different from John’s style.  In any case, it’s simplest for us to read straight through, and I encourage you to talk with your church about these issues.

Our verse for this week is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 7 and 8.  Now let’s read it!

Day 80: John chapters 5 and 6

John’s presentation can hardly be called “narrative.”  The events of Jesus’ life are typically used as introductions to what John really wants to share with you – Jesus’ teaching about Himself, and the responses that it raised.  Trace the arguments, rather than the physical map, as you read through this Gospel.

At the Pool of Bethsaida in chapter 5, Jesus encounters a man who had been “an invalid for thirty-eight” years.  The dialogue of this story is launched with a curious question: “Do you want to be healed?”  The answer is so obvious that the question begs notice.  What follows is a healing, as we’ve come to expect, followed by a challenge from the Jews, which we’ve also come to expect.

What might be unexpected is how Jesus seems to tease them on.  In the middle of chapter 5, John records that the Jews “were persecuting Jesus” because of His healing on the Sabbath.  Out of all possible responses, Jesus replies “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”  So, in John’s words, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Jesus follows this with a logic test.  “I can do nothing on my own,” he tells them.  “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true…”  But, “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish…bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

Jesus then calls them out: their unbelief is not for lack of information, but because they “do not have the love of God” within them.  Pay attention to the characteristics of those who believe and disbelieve throughout this book.  Also note why they believe or disbelieve – John is great at acknowledging motives – and how these stories help John develop a theme.

We turn then to chapter 6, with signs leading into questions which lead into sermons.  Listen closely as another pattern is replayed: Jesus makes a cryptic, seemingly concrete offer – with the Samaritan woman it was living water and here is it “true bread,” His listener asks for what is offered, and then Jesus launches into a deeper explanation of what He meant.  But as the call gets more difficult, more real, and the crowds thin, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, “Do you want to go away as well?

Our verse for this week is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John chapters 5 and 6.  Now let’s read it!

Day 79: John 3 and 4

In chapter 3, John (the author) gives essentially the same sermon twice: that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  He does this first in the context of a visit from a Pharisee, and later by checking in on John the Baptist.

Chapter 3 launches a new story with, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus…”  John has just set up the Jewish leaders as antagonists when he introduces Nicodemus, who “came to Jesus by night.”  The setting is clandestine; a Pharisee, teacher of the law, member of the ruling class, who knows there’s something different about Jesus but can’t be seen with Him.

The passage turns from conversation to sermon in verse 16.  The original text doesn’t indicate whether this is a continuation of Jesus’ conversation or a reflection by John.  In any case, it pronounces “…the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil.”

The scene moves from Jerusalem out to the wilderness, where John the Baptist continues to deal with questions about the nature of Jesus.  It’s apparent here that, to this point, John’s and Jesus’ ministries have run concurrently.  However, the Baptist makes it clear that a change is coming, and that change is necessary for God’s ultimate plan to be fulfilled.

Most of chapter 4 is occupied with a narrative event in Samaria.  The Samaritans of that time believed that they were a faithful remnant of Israel. Their scripture was the five Books of Moses alone.  Hence they believed that Gerezim, and not Jerusalem, should be the true center of worship, since it was the home of Jacob.  There is much more to the story (and I’ve added a brief synopsis of the situation on the YouCanReadTheBible site), but it’s sufficient to note that Jews looked sharply down at Samaritans, and this woman had every reason to be cautious of this Jewish teacher.

Note throughout this passage that every time Jesus pushes the discussion into the spiritual, she pulls it back into the physical.  Also note how Jesus responds each time she does.  Then listen to how John allows the Samaritan witnesses to declare what he preached in chapter 3: that “this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Our verse for this week is John 3:16, of course: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John chapters 3 and 4.  Now let’s read it!

Daily Reader – A Special Note About Samaritans In The Gospels

For those who have never read through the Bible before, a lot changes geographically between the end of Joshua and the beginning of John.  The Israelite nation (spoiler alert!) has been wiped out, exiled, and resettled, and is now governed by the Romans.  When the New Testament writers reference Samaritans and Samaria, they are referring to the people who inhabited the region between Galilee in the north and Judea, which is centered around Jerusalem.

The Samaritans believed, and still believe (as a community still exists), that they were a faithful remnant of Israel.  Samaritans believed that Israel had sinned when it removed the Ark of the Covenant (and hence the worship center) from Gerezim – the home of Jacob – to Jerusalem, which occurs in the books of Samuel and Kings.  Their Scripture was the Pentateuch (the 5 books of Moses), and their worship remained on Gerezim.

Furthermore, Samaritans allowed themselves to be more influenced by Greek culture.  After freeing themselves briefly from the Greeks in the mid-2nd century B.C., the Jews (descendants of Abraham), angered that the Samaritans hadn’t aided their rebellion, attacked Samaria and burned Gerezim.   The situation remained tense in Jesus’ time, though both regions were now under Roman control.

Since Samaria sat between the Jewish regions of Judea and Galilee, Jews who had to travel between the two had a choice to make: either cross the Jordan and travel down the Eastern shore (a region now known as Peraea), or walk through Samaria.  Many chose to cross the Jordan, going well out of their way and entering a completely pagan land, rather than “defile” themselves by traveling through Samaria.

Day 78: John 1 and 2

You heard that right!  To prepare for Advent, we’ll jump now to the New Testament and read the Gospels of John and Mark.   We’ll return to Judges in a few weeks.  We begin with John, chapters 1 and 2.

In the beginning…

As the first covenant began, so does the second: with creation, and God’s supremacy over it.  Remember that this Bible is about God, and with these echoes John tells us what he believes: that this Jesus – “The Word” as John calls Him – is God in the flesh, the One who created the world and who reigns over it.

Don’t forget to apply to the New Testament what you’ve been already learned about reading the Old.  Let the author tell the story he wants to tell, without looking immediately for theological categories or moral application.

As we’ve already seen with Old Testament writers, John allows dialogue to reveal character and meaning.  “I am not the Christ” is the very first line of dialogue in this Gospel, and it packs the same punch as “Let there be light” did in Genesis.  When Nathaniel can’t believe his ears, John relays Jesus’ reply, “You will see greater things than these…”  Mary doesn’t preach about Jesus’ divinity, but just tells the wedding servants, “Do what he tells you.”

Listen also to how questions drive the plot.  “Who are you?” the priests and Levites ask the Baptist…  “What are you seeking?” Jesus asks the disciples who follow him.  Upon learning of Jesus’ hometown, Nathaniel mocks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  When Jesus’ mother asks him to help at the wedding, He retorts, “Woman, what does this have to do with me?”  And when He drives the moneychangers out of the temple, the Jews ask “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”  These questions are at the heart of the tensions in this book.

The New Testament writers add one more element: echoes of the law, history, and prophets of the Old Testament.  We’ve seen much of this thus far, especially in showing how the LORD has fulfilled His promises.  But in the New Testament the authors exert greater urgency to build a bridge between what had been known of God and what will be shown in Jesus.  Thus John gets ahead of the question: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”  The gauntlet is thrown, and with this Gospel John aims to let Jesus prove it.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 

John chapters 1 and 2.  Now let’s read it!

Day 77: Joshua 23 and 24

Chapter 23 begins with Joshua summoning the leaders of Israel to Shechem, the place that Jacob had first owned property hundreds of years ago.  Since the LORD will drive their enemies “out of [their] sight,” Joshua exhorts them to “be very strong to keep and do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses…”  Completing the conquest of the land is about obedience, not military might, and Israel cannot forget how they got this far.

Joshua’s words to Israel conclude with the same call that Moses’ had: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served… or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell,” or the LORD your God.   And he adds his own answer, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 

Listen to the way Joshua goads the elders of Israel toward accountability:  You are not able to serve the LORD… “No, we will!”  Then you are witnesses against yourselves this day… “We are witnesses!” Then put away your foreign gods… “The LORD our God we will serve!”  Joshua indeed has been exalted, just as the LORD had promised.

And with a final monument of witness, the journey ends.  The people are sent away, “every man to his inheritance.”  Sent away from Shechem, just as Jacob had been, but with a markedly different future.  Do they sense that a page is turning, that they will never pass this way again?  Will they indeed serve the LORD in the land He has given them?

The book ends with the typical farewells, to Joshua, to Eleazar, to this chapter in Israel’s story.  But if you’ve been with this story from the beginning, ever since “…but God will visit you, and bring you up… to the land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” then the author has one final reward in store.

We’ll end our Joshua readings with the postscript at the end of Joshua 21:

“Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 

Joshua 23 and 24.  Now let’s read it!

Day 76: Joshua 20 through 22

As we saw throughout the law so we have also seen in this distribution of land: the LORD is a God who loves details.  This second act of Joshua has reflected God’s intimate knowledge of the land and his devotion to just provision.

Now that the land has been divided among the tribes of Israel, there are two final Mosaic commands to fulfill: designating cities of refuge and making provision for the Levites.  These divide neatly between chapters 20 and 21.

You’ll remember that the cities of refuge were set aside by Moses to provide space for justice to take its course.  These cities, within a day’s journey of every Israelite, were a refuge for someone who kills another accidentally.  You can review Numbers 35 for the details, but the basic purpose was to protect a manslayer from impulsive, unjust vengeance, and there await trial.

Chapter 21 contains an exhaustive list of the 48 cities given to the Levites, whose portion is the LORD.  Their special calling is to assist the priests in carrying out the sacrificial duties and in managing the Tabernacle.  They were to be provided for by the other Israelites, and thus were not permitted to accumulate wealth that would pass down through the generations.

There might be additional significance in Joshua, rather than Moses, completing this task.  Moses, you’ll remember, was a Levite.  Joshua, of Judah, has no vested interest – beyond simple fairness – in looking out for the Levites.  By placing nine Levitical cities within the combined borders of Judah and Simeon, Joshua’s tribe is at least carrying, if not exceeding, its fair share.

Chapter 22 records the homecoming of the Eastern tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh.  Place yourself among them, crossing the Jordan for perhaps the final time, leaving behind the land that they had been promised.  Did they see this as a natural expansion of Israel’s territory?  Were they indifferent, and just glad to be going home?  Did they see themselves as part of one great nation?

And most importantly, how did they view their relationship with Yahweh, whose promises they had been following for decades?  Hold onto these questions at the end of today’s reading, when yet another inter-tribal crisis emerges.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 

Joshua chapters 20 through 22.  Now let’s read it!

Day 75: Joshua 16 through 19

At the beginning of yesterday’s reading, the author duplicated his effort to call attention to Joshua’s advanced age.  He held up Moses’ arms against Amalek, spied out the land, replaced Moses as Israel’s representative before the LORD, and led Israel through the years of conquest.  He has served longer, harder, and more faithfully than anyone alive.

Keep this in mind as he faces new challenges today.  Our reading begins with Joseph’s inheritance, going all the way back to Genesis when Jacob doubles Joseph’s blessing between his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.  There’s an inset about Zelophehad’s daughters, a situation that Moses resolved in Number 27, reminding us of the detailed promise-keeping that Joshua maintained.

Chapters 18 and 19 are bookended by the affirmation that the rest of the land was allotted at Shiloh, “at the entrance of the tent of meeting.”  After Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh are settled, the remaining tribes are asked by Joshua, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?”  Survey crews are sent out, lots are cast, and the remaining land is divided among these seven tribes.  And finally, once everyone else is accounted for, “the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun.”

This would be one big celebration if not for two caveats.  The first is emphasized in chapter 16: “However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.”  While forced labor might sound better than annihilation (a tradeoff the Gibeonites were willing to make), remember God’s commands regarding the Canaanites, and pray that Israel’s present contentment doesn’t compromise their future.

A second storm on the horizon appears in the middle of chapter 17, when Ephraim and Manasseh take issue with their allotment: “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?”  Joshua fires right back: “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves…”  We’ll see if this tension between the sons of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judah is revisited in the future.

One final note: there are plenty of good maps of the tribal divisions online.  A simple search of “Israel tribe map” can really help you visualize these chapters.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 

Joshua chapters 16 through 19.  Now let’s read it!

Day 74: Joshua 13 through 15

Over the next few days you’ll notice a resemblance to Numbers, with lists of conquered cities and boundary markers.  While this might seem tedious to us – and it’s certainly tempting to skim – the meaning for this generation, and future generations, cannot be overstated.  Since in Numbers 36 the LORD commanded that “the inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another,” the borders established here would govern inheritances for hundreds of years.

The author takes care to make sure you know that the land was allotted according to what the LORD had commanded Moses.  It seems throughout that “Moses” and “The LORD” are interchangeable subjects in allotting the land.  Joshua is barely mentioned, except where he’s fulfilling Moses’ commands.  This expresses a great reverence for the leader, even in the decades after his death.

One time that Joshua does need to act is when Caleb reemerges and reminds Joshua that he was promised “the land on which your foot has trodden.”  He comes to Joshua a spritely 85 years old, “still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me,” and ready to take the hill country.  “For you heard on that day how the Anakim – the giants – were there…It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.

Caleb is the headliner for the distribution to the tribe of Judah in chapter 15.  Specific geographic markers are listed, including the western boundary of the Salt Sea, what we now call the Dead Sea.  You’ll also hear that the Jebusites still possess Jerusalem, and they “dwell with the people of Judah there to this day.”  So not only does this date the writing of the passage – at some point before Jerusalem is taken – it also foreshadows that more effort will be required to subdue the land.

Our verse for this week is Hebrews 11:30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 

Joshua chapters 13 through 15.  Now let’s read it!

Daily Reader – A Special Note on Joshua 10

The passage where “The sun stands still” is richly debated.  Did the sun and moon really stop in the heavens?  Let’s look again at verses 12 through 14:

At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

And the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their
enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar?  The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.  There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

The traditional view holds that Joshua is asking the LORD to stop the sun’s movement, and the heavens respond in kind.  This view goes back to Old Testament times, and is acknowledged in the Apocryphal book “Wisdom of Sirach.”  Joshua, so the thinking goes, wants the day to be extended because the enemy is on the run and he wants to finish the job.

There are, of course, objections to this.  But before you cry “That’s absurd!” remember that if this universe belongs to the LORD, then He can do whatever He wants with it.  As we’ve already seen, even in this chapter, the LORD is master over nature.   Further, stay focused on what the author is looking at: that the LORD would listen to – literally, “obey” – the voice of a man.  To this observer of God and nature, celestial movements are child’s play compared to Divine ones.

Of course, there were things that the ancients didn’t understand.  In their understanding of the cosmos, the sun, moon, and stars inhabited celestial spheres, not very far above the earth.  To their eyes, these bodies obviously moved around the earth.  We can’t get around the fact that Joshua’s request to make the sun and moon stand still is based on a faulty understanding of the solar system.

But there’s another concern to address, having to do with geography.  Joshua calls for “the sun to stand still over Gibeon and the moon in the Valley Aijalon.”   Gibeon is to the east of Aijalon; if the sun is above Gibeon, and the moon above Aijalon, then this call comes in the morning, not in the evening.  In fact, the only time in the day when the sun and moon would be in this position is right after sunrise.  It seems odd that Joshua would ask for an extension of the battle in the early morning.

There is a possibility that the entire exchange is figurative.  Most Bibles take their cue from the Hebrew and present 12b and 13a as poetry; the question is where the poetry begins and ends.  Elsewhere in Scripture, the Psalmist tells the rivers to “clap their hands,” and for the mountains to “sing for joy.”  Isaiah writes that “the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isa. 55:12).

The prophet Habakkuk foresees the LORD’s march through the earth, when “the sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped…”  It’s possible that this is what’s in both Joshua’s and the author’s mind here: “Sun and moon, stand back and watch the LORD fight for Israel.”

If this is true, then in what way did the LORD listen to Joshua?  Perhaps there is a break in verse 12 that doesn’t make it into our translations.  “At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD.”  Break.  Then, “In the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, he said in the sight of Israel…”  The Hebrew text allows this, and can assist the figurative interpretation of what follows.  If this is the case, then it highlights the author’s ending acknowledgement that the LORD listened to Joshua by (simply) fighting for Israel.

Other possibilities, such as an eclipse, or the calling of an omen, don’t hold as much strength as either the traditional view or the figurative one.  Both have their problems, but I need to call you back to the author’s awe: if the LORD will listen to a man, and fight for His people, then natural considerations are secondary.

Don’t believe it?  It’s all there in the Book of Jashar.

I’m indebted to Dr. David Howard for his fine assessment of this passage in his New American Commentary on Joshua.