Category Archives: New Bible Commentary

October 16, 2017: Verse of the day

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O Lord, you have searched me and known me!

    You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

    You search out my path and my lying down

and are acquainted with all my ways.

    Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

    You hem me in, behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high; I cannot attain it. [1]


139:5 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). And because His knowledge of us is so inconceivably absolute, He can guard us behind and before. Ever and always His hand is laid protectingly upon us.[2]


139:5 enclosed me. God used circumstances to limit David’s actions.[3]


139:5 lay your hand upon me. A gentle gesture (cf. Gen. 48:14, 17), giving reassurance.[4]


139:5 You barricade me It is unclear what connotation the psalmist intends when using the Hebrew word tsur here; it can mean “to bind,” “encircle,” or “lay siege to.” In Ps 139:6, the psalmist indicates that he accepts close scrutiny from God, but that he does not understand it.[5]


139:5 You hem me in. The Lord sets His limits around the psalmist’s actions.[6]


The Lord’s Discernment of Individuals (139:1–6)

Commentary

1–6 The Lord “knows” his own. The knowledge of God is relational. He knows his own (see 1:6), as he discerns the righteous from the wicked (cf. vv. 19–20). The root ydʿ (“know”) occurs throughout this section: “you know me … you know when … you know it completely … such knowledge.” It signifies here divine discernment. The Lord discerns the actions of his own (v. 1), whether they sit or stand (v. 2; see 1:6). This discernment belongs uniquely to God, who alone is the Judge of all flesh. Hence the psalmist exclaims that this divine prerogative is beyond him: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (v. 6).

In his prayer (vv. 23–24), which gives expression to his recommitment, the psalmist prayed for the Lord’s justification of his acts against those who maligned him. He prayed for the Lord to examine him as in a judicial case and to declare him innocent of the charges (vv. 23–24; see comments there). Now that the ordeal is over and he has been justified by the Lord, the psalmist testifies that the Lord is a righteous judge. He has come to a new level of relationship with the Lord, who knows him through and through: “you have searched me” (v. 1; cf. 7:9; 17:3; 26:2; Jer 17:10), “you know” (vv. 1–2, 4; see above), “you perceive” (bîn, v. 2; or “you have an understanding of”), “you discern” (v. 3, or “you have winnowed me”), and “you are familiar with.” The Lord knows his every move (“when I sit and when I rise,” v. 2).

But the accused is not afraid of his judge. The divine Judge is more than an arbiter, because he is also the one in whom the psalmist has found protection. He hedges in his own for the purpose of protection (“behind and before,” v. 5). This thought receives further amplification in v. 5b: “you have laid your hand upon me.” The placement of the divine hand signifies protection and blessing (cf. Ge 48:14, 17; Ex 33:22).

This knowledge of God is nothing less than a knowledge that discerns and discriminates in favor of those who are loyal to the Lord. The discerning and favorable acts of God are gracious. It is grace that justifies, and it is by grace that humans are blessed. Though the psalmist has taken seriously his responsibilities in all of his ways (his sitting, rising, going out, lying down, and speaking; cf. vv. 2–4), still he exclaims that God’s favorable acts toward him are “too wonderful” and “too lofty” to apprehend (v. 6; cf. Ro 11:33; see Reflections, p. 603, The Mighty Acts of Yahweh).[7]


139:1–6 / Verses 1–12 hymn the comprehensive nature of God’s knowledge and presence: from sitting to rising (v. 2), from activity (going out) to inactivity (lying down, v. 3), from the heavens to the depths (i.e., vertical space, v. 8), from the east (“the wings of the dawn”) to the west (“the far side of the sea,” i.e., horizontal space, v. 9), and from darkness and night to light and day (vv. 11–12).

The opening section of the psalm begins with a general confession that you know me. But even this general statement about divine omniscience does not indicate an automatic comprehension: you have searched me. The Hebrew verb behind you discern (Hb. zrh) my going out and my lying down is normally used for “winnowing” or “sifting” wheat. God himself participates in the process of becoming acquainted with us. His knowledge is not static; it too goes through a dynamic process. Examples of what God knows then follow. The various postures one takes during the day point to the various activities one may engage in. God’s knowledge goes beyond mere activity to my thoughts and my ways. One’s speech is also singled out as an area of divine interest. God’s comprehension is comprehensive, both around and over us (v. 5). And so our ability to comprehend is limited, such knowledge is beyond us (v. 6). It is difficult to know whether God’s actions in verse 5 are comforting or oppressive (e.g., Hb. ṣwr, hem … in, is often used in the ot for “besieging,” and God’s hand upon a person can denote affliction, cf. 38:2). The verse may be intentionally ambiguous, though we should note from the next section that the speaker’s immediate response is one of flight.[8]


Exposure to God’s scrutiny (139:1b–6). The speaker of the psalm has come to the sanctuary to present his prayer, hoping for a divine oracle to vindicate him. He protests his innocence of certain charges evidently brought against him, before Yahweh who has insight into the whole of his life. Every detail of his daily routine, every unspoken thought, is known to God, who knows him inside and out, as the alternating parallelism of vv 2a and 3 and vv 2b and 4 conveys. In the OT such terms as “know” (ידע), “examine” (חקר), “see” (ראה) in vv 16, 24, and “probe” (בחן) in v 23 are used with God as subject to refer to a providential role as judge—not necessarily in a formal sense but by way of metaphor—punishing the guilty and acquitting the innocent. These associations of the terms used in the psalm indicate that the psalmist is in some situation of attack. The psalm is comparable with Jeremiah’s appeal for vindication: “You know me, Yahweh; you see me and probe my attitude toward you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter” (Jer 12:3 [author’s translation]; cf. Jer 15:15). The psalmist is not engaged in quiet reverie on a divine attribute but pleading for justice to be done. A polemical element is implicit from the outset.

Yahweh is “far away” (מרחוק) as the transcendent God who observes all from heaven (cf. Ps 11:4–5; Jer 23:23). He is also close by, surrounding the psalmist and controlling his movements. The psalmist reacts to God’s omniscience with wonder: it is beyond his ken and too sublime to comprehend. In the area of knowledge a gulf lies between Yahweh and himself. He is driven to avow his own sense of limitation and inadequacy (cf. Job 42:2, 3b). Kras̆ovec (BZ 18 [1974] 232–33) studied the polar expressions used in the psalm to express totality: in vv 2a, 3a, 5a they are used within single cola, while in vv 8, 9, 11 they extend to whole lines. In this connection Holman (VT 21 [1971] 301) noted the contrast between the human and divine representations in vv 1–12. On the one hand there is the multiplicity of the psalmist’s activities and the agitation of various human possibilities; on the other is the majestic superiority of God’s knowledge, expressed in sober, calm tones, comprehending everything by the mere fact of presence.

The force of the expressions in v 5 is ambiguous. The verb צור used in v 5a is often used in a hostile sense “besiege,” but it can be employed of enclosing for safekeeping. Similarly Yahweh’s כף, “palm,” or hand, can refer to loving care or to punishment. Probably the verse is to be pressed to neither extreme but is simply a neutral statement of God’s absolute control of the psalmist’s movements (Dahood, 288).[9]


1–6 God the all-knowing: from inner thoughts to outer ways. These verses are full of verbs of ‘knowing’. The general statement of v 1 is applied to life’s outward activities and inner thoughts (2), everyday acts and lifestyle (3, ways), and unexpressed thoughts (4). Personal life falls wholly within divine limits, behind, before and over, (5, ‘You cup your hand over me’—a picture which reveals that it is all for my protection and comfort Jn. 10:27–30).[10]


139:1–5 You have searched me: God is active to search and test His servants. He knows our motives, desires, and words before they are expressed. In short, He knows His servants completely. But as v. 5 makes clear, the purpose of His intimate knowledge of His servants is protective and helpful, not judgmental and condemning.

139:6 such knowledge: Here the poet gasps aloud at the wonder of the intimate relationship He has with God, and God with him. It is simply too much to comprehend; the human mind with all its ability is no match for the mind of God![11]


139:5–6. David’s initial response to this staggering knowledge was that he was troubled. Like many who respond to the fact of God’s omniscience, he thought it was confining, that God had besieged him and cupped His hand over him.

Moreover, this kind of knowledge was out of David’s control—it was too wonderful for him. The word “wonderful” is in the emphatic position, at the beginning of the sentence. On the meaning of “wonderful” as “extraordinary or surpassing,” see comments on 9:1. In other words divine omniscience is too high for humans to comprehend (also cf. comments on 139:14).[12]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 139:1–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 769). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 139:5). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1116). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 139:5). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 860). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[7] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 959–960). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[8] Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (pp. 484–485). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[9] Allen, L. C. (2002). Psalms 101–150 (Revised) (Vol. 21, pp. 327–328). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[10] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 578). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[11] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 738). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[12] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 891). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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September 24, 2017: Verse of the day

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“O Lord, make me know my end

and what is the measure of my days;

let me know how fleeting I am!

    Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,

and my lifetime is as nothing before you.

Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah

        Surely a man goes about as a shadow!

Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;

man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather! [1]


4 Unable to resolve his problem, the psalmist turns to the Lord for instruction. The purpose of knowing life’s end is not that he may plan for every day of his life. He does not ask to know all that will happen but only what is the purpose of life. In the greater awareness of the brevity of life, he hopes that the Lord will guide him in an understanding and acceptance of this brevity. Notice the threefold mention of the brevity of life: “my life’s end,” “the number of my days,” and “how fleeting is my life” (cf. Ps 90; Job 11:7–9; Ecc 2:3).

Prayer is God’s means of instruction. In the quietness of prayer, the psalmist returns to the revealed insights pertaining to his life and to life in general. Because the question was personal, his first insight is personal. But the sage in him is not content until he has generalized it to be applicable to humankind.[2]


39:4–6 / The resulting prayer is not what we expect. It is initially a prayer about knowledge or insight (Hb. ydʿ is used twice, rendered in the niv by show me and let me know), not about a moral dilemma, but about how fleeting is my life. This is thus a prayer for perspective. The realization that he asks God to impress upon him (introduced in v. 5 with Hb. hinnê and emphasized in v. 6 with Hb. ʾak) is the span of my years is as nothing before you, and in fact, each man’s life is but a breath. Verse 6 shows the relevance of this prayer for the speaker’s moral dilemma: Man … bustles about, but only in vain (Hb. hebel, “as a breath”); he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. One’s life is too short of time and of guarantees to busy oneself with piling up things.[3]


39:4–6Lord, how long is this nightmare going to last? Tell me how much time I have left, and when it is going to run out. At best the span of my life is only about the width of my palm; compared to Your eternity, my lifetime isn’t worth mentioning. All of us humans are as unsubstantial as a vapor. We go through life like phantoms. We rush around in frenzied activity—but what does it all amount to after all? We spend our lives scrimping and saving, and leave it all behind to be enjoyed by ingrates or fools or strangers![4]


4–6 The burning question. Poetically v 4 asks ‘Am I going to die?’ This was the question he felt he should suppress before those who did not share his faith, for, with a heavenly prospect (49:15; 73:24) ahead why should he fear or resent dying? But the question will out and David faces the acknowledged brevity, insubstantiality and uncertain point of earthly life (5–6).[5]


39:4 For similar prayers about the brevity and burdens of life, cf. Job 6:11; 7:7; 14:13; 16:21, 22; Ps 90:12; Ecc 2:3.[6]


39:4 The threat of death hangs over all human existence and finds relief ultimately only through the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:12–26, 35–58).[7]


39:4 Let me know, O Yahweh, my end The psalmist asks for perspective and awareness regarding the brevity of human life.[8]


39:4 measure of my days. Their own short, hard lives tempted the faithful as they compared them to the prosperity of the wicked and questioned God’s wisdom and justice. See note Ps. 88:5.[9]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 39:4–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 360). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (p. 188). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 609). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 511). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[6] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 39:4). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 986). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 39:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[9] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 770). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

September 11, 2017: Verse of the day

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71 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame!

    In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;

incline your ear to me, and save me!

    Be to me a rock of refuge,

to which I may continually come;

you have given the command to save me,

for you are my rock and my fortress.

    Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

    For you, O Lord, are my hope,

my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

    Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;

you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.

My praise is continually of you.

    I have been as a portent to many,

but you are my strong refuge.

    My mouth is filled with your praise,

and with your glory all the day.

    Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

forsake me not when my strength is spent.

10    For my enemies speak concerning me;

those who watch for my life consult together

11    and say, “God has forsaken him;

pursue and seize him,

for there is none to deliver him.”

12    O God, be not far from me;

O my God, make haste to help me!

13    May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;

with scorn and disgrace may they be covered

who seek my hurt.

14    But I will hope continually

and will praise you yet more and more.

15    My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,

of your deeds of salvation all the day,

for their number is past my knowledge.

16    With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;

I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

17    O God, from my youth you have taught me,

and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18    So even to old age and gray hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to another generation,

your power to all those to come.

19    Your righteousness, O God,

reaches the high heavens.

You who have done great things,

O God, who is like you?

20    You who have made me see many troubles and calamities

will revive me again;

from the depths of the earth

you will bring me up again.

21    You will increase my greatness

and comfort me again.

22    I will also praise you with the harp

for your faithfulness, O my God;

I will sing praises to you with the lyre,

O Holy One of Israel.

23    My lips will shout for joy,

when I sing praises to you;

my soul also, which you have redeemed.

24    And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,

for they have been put to shame and disappointed

who sought to do me hurt. [1]


A Psalm for Old Age

Do not cast me away when I am old;

do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

For my enemies speak against me;

those who wait to kill me conspire together.

They say, “God has forsaken him;

pursue him and seize him,

for no one will rescue him.”

Be not far from me, O God;

come quickly, O my God, to help me.

May my accusers perish in shame;

may those who want to harm me

be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But as for me, I will always have hope;

I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteousness,

of your salvation all day long,

though I know not its measure.

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord;

I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,

and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray,

do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation,

your might to all who are to come.

verses 9–18

Almost all the psalms in the second book of the Psalter have title lines. In fact, with the exception of this psalm, the only other psalm that does not is Psalm 43, which seems to belong with Psalm 42. Since Psalm 71 likewise has no title line, some commentators think it might once have belonged with Psalm 70, both therefore being ascribed to King David.

Certainly there are elements in Psalm 71 that pick up on Psalm 70,  and there are even more expressions drawn from other psalms that are ascribed to David: “rock of refuge” and “my rock and my fortress” (v. 3), “my enemies” (v. 10), “Be not far from me, O God” (v. 12), “come quickly, O my God, to help me” (v. 12), and others. The first three verses are taken directly from the opening verses of Psalm 31, which is by David. Moreover, since we are near the ending of book two of the Psalter and since it ends with the words “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse,” it is appropriate that a psalm of David’s written in and about his old age should appear at this point. It is consistent with this view that the author seems to have been a public person (he says that he has become a “portent,” a well-known example or warning to many, v. 7) and a person of greatness or honor (v. 21). The Septuagint ascribes the psalm to David.

In this study I will be assuming David’s authorship. But on the other hand, the fact that it is or might be by David contributes little. For the psalm is a song of old age and is therefore for all who are old or will be, which is going to be true for most of us sooner or later. Charles Haddon Spurgeon says, “We have here the prayer of the aged believer who in holy confidence of faith, strengthened by a long and remarkable experience, pleads against his enemies and asks further blessings for himself.”

As far as the psalm’s outline goes, there may be six stanzas, as in the New International Version. But the important points overlap, and according to H. C. Leupold, “No two commentators divide the psalm in the same way.” Leupold splits it into two parts (vv. 1–12 and 13–24). Marvin E. Tate divides it into five parts (vv. 1–4, 5–12, 13–18, 19–20, 21–24). Derek Kidner has six sections, like the New International Version, but he does not follow the stanzas of the niv (vv. 1–3, 4–6, 7–11, 12–16, 17–21, 22–24).

It is probably best to think of this psalm in terms of what it says, rather than its outline. It handles four subjects: (1) old age and its problems, (2) how the past looks from the perspective of old age, (3) the future in terms of what is yet to be done, and (4) praise from one who has lived long enough to have observed God’s faithful ways.

Old Age and Its Problems

It is not fun to be old, especially in America. At other times and in other cultures old age had advantages to offset its disadvantages. Elderly persons were honored and respected. Their wisdom was valued. That is no longer true in America or in the West generally. Here we value youth, and the culture is so oriented to youthful interests that many old people even try to dress and act like teenagers. David didn’t have those problems, of course. But the problems he had as a result of his old age were serious and even universal. In fact, they are the most basic problems of all.

  1. Weakness, the loss of former strength or abilities. One problem with getting old is that you lose the strength and many of the abilities you had when you were younger. John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist, lived to be eighty-eight years old (1703–91). He kept a diary throughout most of his life, and for June 28, 1789, there is this entry:

Sunday 28 … This day I enter on my eighty-sixth year. I now find I grow old: 1) My sight is decayed, so that I cannot read a small print, unless in a strong light; 2) My strength is decayed, so that I walk much slower than I did some years since; 3) My memory of names, whether of persons or places, is decayed, till I stop a little to recollect them. What I should be afraid of is, if I took thought for the morrow, that my body should weigh down my mind and create either stubbornness, by the decrease of my understanding, or peevishness, by the increase of bodily infirmities. But thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.

Many of us find that we can echo that. We can’t hear as well as we used to hear. We can’t read the small print. We get tired faster. We don’t even sleep as well, and we wake up three or four times throughout the night. It is what David is talking about when he tells God, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (v. 9).

  1. A continuation of troubles, particularly enemies. The second problem of old age is that the difficulties we have faced throughout our lives do not go away but instead remain with us. And the trouble they cause is augmented because of our diminishing strength or capacities to deal with them. In David’s case this had to do with his enemies, those he has written about in nearly every other psalm. Here he writes of these dangerous people, “My enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together” (v. 10). Marvin E. Tate says, “The speaker might have expected mature age to bring exemption from such attacks, but such is not the case.” The enemies of the king were present as much at the end of his life as at the beginning.

So also with us. The most disturbing, continuing problems I face are having to support the various ministries I am involved in financially. The Bible Study Hour is usually behind in paying its bills, and at times it is so far behind that I think we are going to have to terminate the ministry. City Center Academy always needs funds. Even Tenth Presbyterian Church goes through regular financial crises, when we have to reduce our staff or curtail some aspects of our outreach. It would be nice if those problems would go away, but they do not. In fact, they are more serious now, more serious because of their greater dimensions, than they were when I began my ministry twenty-eight years ago. I wish somebody else would assume responsibility for these problems, but no one else does. In fact, I even get letters saying that we would not have these problems if we were only more careful about being in the will of God.

Other people have family problems, and these do not get better either. I know one woman who has taken care of her cantankerous octogenarian mother for several decades. The mother is now in a Christian nursing home where she is well cared for. Her finances are well managed. But she doesn’t thank her daughter. She is as critical and difficult as ever. In fact, just recently she has brought in a public defender and an unscrupulous lawyer to bring pressure on her daughter to do more. The problem never gets better; that is what is so wearing. The mother doesn’t even die.

E. M. Forster, the British novelist, had a mother like that. She lived to her late nineties and didn’t die until he was sixty-six.

Some people have health problems all their lives. Some struggle with depression. Others labor against class or ethnic prejudice, and the problems do not go away or even grow lighter as they grow older. In fact, they are often more difficult and certainly more oppressive and hard to bear than when these people were young.

  1. Being alone, no one to help. The third thing that bothered David is that as he grew older he had fewer people to help him, to solve or help shoulder these burdens. In fact, he describes himself as being utterly alone with none to help but God. His enemies recognized this; they argued that even God had deserted him. “They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him’ ” (v. 11). Maybe you feel that way too. In your youth you had many friends and coworkers. There were people you could share your burdens with. But now you are old. Those former friends are gone. You have no one.

Looking to the Past: Our Faithful God

You may have no human being with you perhaps, but if you are a Christian, you still have God. And that means that you still have the only one who was really with you and really able to help you all along. It is one advantage of old age to know that experientially.

This leads us to the second important element of this psalm. For the reflections David gives us concerning old age are not so we will wring our hands and complain about how bad it is to grow old, but the contrary. David wants us to see that even old age is given to us by God, is one of his good gifts and should be used for his glory and the blessing and well-being of others. He gets into these points first by pausing to look back over his long life and reflect on what he has learned about God and experienced about him during those former long years. We have spoken about the problems of old age, which are great. But one great advantage is in having a long experience of God’s presence, faithfulness, and blessing. There are two things to notice about what David says concerning the past.

  1. David had known God from his youth and even before that. He says, “You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (vv. 5–6). What this seems to mean is that he remembers how he had come to know God and had trusted God from childhood. We would say that such a person became a “Christian” early in life. But he is also saying that he is aware that God was with him even before childhood, from the moment of his birth, though he cannot remember the years before his early childhood himself. We know that this was true of David. He was a man of God even before he was a man. He was godly even when he was watching the sheep as the youngest and least of Jesse’s eight sons (see 1 Sam. 16:1–13).

Have you known the Lord from childhood? If you have, you are fortunate because you can look back over a lifetime of God’s faithful care and provision. Spurgeon wrote, “They are highly favored who can like David, Samuel, Josiah, Timothy, and others say, ‘Thou art my trust from my youth.’ ”

I like the testimony of Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred on February 22, a.d. 156. As he was being driven to the arena where he would be given the choice of worshiping Caesar or, refusing, being offered to the lions, the city officials tried to persuade him to make the gesture of homage to Caesar. They had respect for him because of his age and reputation and argued, “What harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and burning incense … and saving yourself?” But Polycarp answered, “For eighty-six years I have been [Christ’s] slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Despite his age and undoubted physical weakness, Polycarp was not weak. He was strong in faith. In fact, he was never stronger, because he remembered the strength and faithfulness of God to him throughout the many long years of his service as Christ’s slave. So it will be with you if, in your old age, you recall God’s love and faithfulness to you over your lifetime.

  1. David had become “a portent” to many. The word portent (v. 7) is hard to define, because it can be taken either in a good or bad sense. In a good sense it would refer to the writer as a marvel of God’s protecting care. People would say, “Look how God has protected and blessed David.” In a bad sense it would refer to the greatness of his sufferings and the magnitude of his calamities. In that case, people would say, “Has anybody ever suffered as much as David?” Since the word occurs here in the context of remembering God’s faithfulness to him in the past, the bad sense should probably be thrown out. But it is possible both might be combined in the sense suggested by J. J. Stewart Perowne, when he says it is best “to understand it as applying to his whole wonderful life of trials and blessings, of perils and deliverances, such as did not ordinarily fall to the lot of man.” David was certainly a portent in this sense, which is why the record of his life is given to us so completely in the Bible.

Looking Ahead: The Next Generation

I suppose there are some people who in their old age only look back to the past and are often quite unhappy as they do. They think of what they have had and lost or what they wish they could have had and never did. The present does not mean much to them except as a basis for complaining about their multiplying aches and pains, and they are afraid to look forward. They are afraid of dying.

David’s approach to old age was not like this. For not only did he look to the past to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to him over the many long years of his life, he also looked to the future in terms of the work yet remaining to be done. He knew that if God had left him in life and had not yet taken him home to be with him in glory, it was because there was work to do. This work was testifying to the coming generations about God. This led him to say,

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,

and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray,

do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation,

your might to all who are to come (vv. 17–18).

Someone has said that the Christian church is always one generation away from extinction, meaning that each generation has the responsibility of passing Christian doctrine to the next. David knew this. It is what he wants to do. But since he is writing about old age, the uniqueness of what he is saying is that older people have a special and peculiar ability to teach the young. This does not mean that they know more than those in middle age. An old deacon or deaconess does not necessarily know more than his pastor about the Bible’s content. But the old person has lived with God longer and has seen more of God’s faithfulness over more years of life than younger people, however much they may know. Therefore, a person like this is especially well equipped to help the young.

Haven’t you noticed that there is a special natural bond between the elderly and children? The secular world has begun to take advantage of this in nursing homes and kindergartens by bringing people from nursing homes to help care for children in day-care centers and other institutions. At Tenth Presbyterian Church we bring older people into the Sunday school to hear the children recite their Bible verses and assist in other ways. The children love these older people and respect them. It is a good arrangement. It is biblical.

The Present: Praising God Now

This brings us to the present, the third way in which David deals with the limitations of old age. He looks to the past to remind himself of God’s faithfulness and power. He looks to the future to remind himself of the work yet to be done. Then, having done both of those things, he turns to the present and begins to do exactly what he has been talking about. He bears witness to God now. What he praises God for chiefly is his righteousness (vv. 19–21) and faithfulness (vv. 22–24).

  1. God’s righteousness. The word righteousness is used in different ways in the Bible, most notably of that divine righteousness that is imparted to us in justification. That is not the way the word is used here, nor characteristically in the psalms. Here it refers to God’s right dealings, to the fact that everything he does is just, that no one can fault him. The word appears in this sense throughout the psalms ascribed to David. Again and again he calls God a “righteous God” and speaks of “your righteousness.” (There are not many psalms from which this word or the idea represented by this word is missing.) This is a great testimony, that a person has lived a long time and has found by his or her own experience that God does all things rightly or justly. Therefore, (1) God can be trusted, and (2) it is the part of wisdom to conform one’s life to God’s will and standards. That is a great and important testimony to pass to the next generation.
  2. God’s faithfulness. In one sense the entire psalm has been about God’s faithfulness: his faithfulness in the past, and the prayer of the psalmist that God will remain faithful to him in his old age. Here at the end the theme is the same, for it is the last and chief thing David wants to declare to those who are to come. He wants them to know that God is an utterly faithful God and can be trusted to remain so.

“Great is thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;

As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!”

Morning by morning new mercies I see:

All I have needed thy hand hath provided—

“Great is thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

If you have known God at all, you have found that he is indeed a God of great faithfulness and know that this must be your testimony.[2]


Prayer in Old Age (71:9–13)

Commentary

9–11 Lament shapes the petition. The psalmist prays that the Lord will not abandon him in old age (i.e., “when my strength is gone,” v. 9). “Cast away” and “forsake” signify a state of condemnation and curse (cf. 51:11; Job 19:13–21). The vile enemies (vv. 4, 10) are all too ready to condemn him to death (v. 10; cf. 3:2; 5:9; 56:6–7), to accuse him as a sinner worse than they, and to justify their evil course of action (v. 11; cf. 3:2; 22:7–8). They do not believe in retribution and reward, and they believe that autonomously they hold the power of life and death in their own hands. Possibly they believed they were God’s appointed agents of justice (cf. 56:4).

12–13 The prayer calls on Yahweh to vindicate his servant speedily (cf. 35:2; 38:22; 40:13–14) by giving him “help” (v. 12) and by bringing retribution (“scorn and disgrace”) on God’s enemies (v. 13; cf. 35:26; 109:29). His enemies are “evil and cruel” (v. 4) “accusers” (v. 13; cf. “speak against me; … conspire together,” v. 10). Their joy lies in bringing misfortune and disgrace on others. The psalmist cries here for Yahweh’s fidelity to his promises in bringing the sanctions of the covenant, namely, blessing and curse. He does not do evil for evil or curse his enemies, but he awaits the Lord’s judgment (see Reflections, p. 953, Imprecations in the Psalms).[3]


71:9–13 / This section focuses attention on my enemies and the theological problem they raise. They say, “God has forsaken him.” Presumably they reason that because the speaker is old and his strength is gone, he now lacks God’s blessing and is thus Godforsaken and vulnerable. What precisely is their intention is left openended. The Hebrew phrase, which is literally, “those who watch my life,” is much more ambiguous than the niv’s those who wait to kill me. As noted in the Introduction, psalms often speak in extremes so as to include any form of situation. Thus, while the opponents say, “… pursue him and seize him” and the psalm describes them as my accusers and as those who want to harm me, this could include anything from harming his reputation, to seizing his property, or to homicide. We should note that the fate invoked upon them focuses on their shame (vv. 13, 24), not their destruction (in v. 13 instead of Hb. yiklû, “let them come to an end,” several mss and the Syriac read yikkāle, “let them be humiliated”).

To counter these presumptions, the lament concerning the foes is surrounded by petitions. The first petitions are negative: Do not cast me away, do not forsake me (using the same verb as the enemies), and be not far from me. The psalm thus allows the speaker to reckon with this fear as a possibility but then quickly asks God to exclude it as a reality. The positive petitions are first on the speaker’s behalf, come quickly, O my God, to help me (reminding him of the “my God” relationship), and then against the foes. These are expressed as a wish (Hb. jussive), may they perish (or “be humiliated”; see BHS) in shame and be covered with scorn and disgrace.[4]


The main complaint (71:5–12). These verses set forth, in rather traditional language, the conditions of the suppliant which merit complaint to God. The complaint begins with a succinct statement of confidence in God, which is followed by an affirmation of life-long trust and praise in v 6. The meaning of v 7 is not entirely clear. The word for “mystery” (or “like a mystery,” see note 7.a.) denotes a “wonder” or a “portent,” something extraordinary, which is so out of the routine course of things that it baffles. The reference here can be understood (1) as an unusual case of God’s care (so Weiser: “He is the sign or portent which in a visible way makes manifest ‘to many’ God’s providential rule, his power and his help”), or (2) as an outstanding public example of divine punishment (cf. Deut 28:46)—perhaps, the evidence for life lived under a divine curse. The term מופת is rather frequently used to convey a display of divine power as a sign or warning to make the enemies of God afraid (Exod 7:3; 11:9; Deut 6:22; 1 Kgs 13:3, 5; Isa 20:3)—so neb in 71:7, “To many I seem a solemn warning.” The word appears in a word-pair with אות (“sign”); see, e.g., Exod 7:3; Deut 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 13:2, 3; 26:8; 28:46; 29:2; 34:11; Isa 8:18. Mopheth is used especially to describe the events of the exodus from Egypt. In these contexts, the “signs and wonders” are demonstrations of divine power and explicit or implicit warnings to all who might dare to oppose the divine will. If the meaning of a “solemn warning” is understood in 7a, then 7b indicates that the speaker ignores the wrong (and for the enemies, gratifying) conclusions about his or her sufferings, while persisting in trust in God—“looking to God to see through to a conclusion the work He began so long ago” (Kidner, I, 251). Perhaps, however, we should not draw the lines of meaning too sharply. The verse may mean that the suppliant continues with unshaken trust in God regardless of how the “many” (v 7a; the people in the community) choose to interpret the situation. Some members of the community would have seen the supplicant as a “sign” of God’s providential care; others would have understood his or her condition as a divine judgement. A “sign” is subject to the interpretation of the viewer.

The condition of the suppliant is the subject of talk and conspiracy on the part of enemies who are described as “soul-watchers” (v 10), those who wait for any opportunity to harm the life of the speaker. The foes assume that the suppliant has been forsaken by God and left at their mercy (v 11). The situation is made worse by the failing strength of advanced age (v 9); it is imperative that the suppliant not be abandoned by God while foes are strong and personal strength declines. V 12 forms the closing petition of this section (note the direct address to God which corresponds to the direct address to Yahweh in v 5). God is asked not to be far away (cf. Ps 22) and to hasten to help one who needs divine presence.[5]


71:9     Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

Do not forsake me when my strength fails.

To grow old gracefully calls for more Grace than Nature can provide. Old age is a new world of strange conflicts and secret fears; the fear of being left alone, the fear of being a burden to loved ones, the fear of becoming a helpless invalid, the fear of losing one’s grip, the fear of being imposed upon. These fears are not new. The psalmist is here thinking aloud for the encouragement of all who are in the autumn of life (Daily Notes of the Scripture Union).[6]


4–11 Lifelong divine care. Prayer for deliverance is nourished by an experience of God going back beyond the reach of memory, consciously enjoyed throughout youth (5–6) and now, in old age desired all the more as strength, but not opposition, diminishes (9–10). 5 Hope, the One on whom I waited with confident expectation. Confidence, the ‘place’ on which my trust rested. 6 Relied, ‘been upheld’. 7 Portent. The charges levelled against him (see on Pss. 69, 70) make people look on him as a ‘warning example’. But just as in the face of his direct assailants he reacts by recalling God (4–5), so when faced by public loss of reputation he reacts by finding again in God ‘my refuge—and what a strong one!’. Thus what could have resulted in deep depression issues rather in praise (8). 10–11 69:3 reveals a long-standing period of trial in which God has remained silent and even David wondered if his face had been turned away in rejection (69:17). His enemies are quick to capitalize on this,[7]


71:1–24 One of the features of the psalms is that they meet the circumstances of life. This psalm to God expresses the concerns of old age. At a time in his life when he thinks he should be exempt from certain kinds of troubles, he once again is personally attacked. Though his enemies conclude that God has abandoned him, the psalmist is confident that God will remain faithful.

  1. Confidence in God Stated (71:1–8)
  2. Confidence in God Practiced in Prayer (71:9–13)

III. Confidence in God Vindicated (71:14–24)

71:3 continually. Psalm 71:1–3 is almost the same as Ps 31:1–3a. One difference, however, is the word “continually,” which the elderly person writing this psalm wants to emphasize. God has “continually” been faithful (cf. vv. 6, 14).

71:7 a marvel. A reference to his trials. People are amazed at this person’s life, some interpreting his trials as God’s care, and others as God’s punishment.

71:15 the sum of them. The blessings of God’s salvation and righteousness are innumerable.

71:20 from the depths of the earth. Not actual resurrection, but rescue from near-death conditions and renewal of life’s strength and meaning.[8]


71:9 Do not cast me away The psalmist has trusted God all his life (Ps 71:5–6); he asks God not to forsake him in his old age.[9]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 71:1–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 592–598). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 540). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (pp. 291–292). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Tate, M. E. (1998). Psalms 51–100 (Vol. 20, pp. 213–214). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 657). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 530). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 71:1–20). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[9] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 71:9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

August 23, 2017: Verse of the day

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9 A further participle, “having been made perfect,” leads into a second main clause, “he became …,” which balances that of v. 8; his “learning [of] obedience” was thus not an end in itself but the means by which he was able to fulfill perfectly his saving mission. For “made perfect,” see above on 2:10 and the introduction, p. 32; the reference is not to attaining moral perfection but to being perfectly equipped to fulfill his saving mission. The verb teleioō, “make perfect” (GK 5457), has special resonance in this context as teleioō cheiras, “to perfect (or fill) the hands,” is often used in the LXX for consecration to priestly service (e.g., Ex 29:9, 29, 33, 35; NIV, “ordain”). Peterson, 103, sums up a lengthy discussion (96–103) by endorsing the verdict of O. Michel that the “perfecting” of Christ here involves “his proving in temptation, his fulfillment of the priestly requirements and his exaltation as Redeemer of the heavenly world.”

And just as Christ “learned obedience,” so those who are to benefit from his saving work must also “obey” him. For them, he is the “source” (lit., “cause,” the one responsible for) of salvation (cf. 2:10, “pioneer of their salvation”). Jesus in Gethsemane could not bypass physical death, and neither can we; but this is “eternal” salvation on a different level altogether from merely escaping death. Just how Jesus’ obedience to a mission of suffering would bring about salvation for others is not yet spelled out, but the theme will be richly developed in chs. 9–10, and already there is a strong pointer in the fact that the issue under discussion here is priesthood, with its connotations of sacrifice. We will also read there why the solution that Jesus has provided for sin is not temporary, like the sacrifices of the OT priests, but “eternal,” since it is secured by the one sacrifice offered once for all by the eternal Son.

10 A further participial clause (“having been designated …” [NIV, “and was designated …”] could be understood wrongly to speak of a subsequent designation rather than the prior calling the participle denotes) rounds off the sentence and grounds it again in the text from Psalm 110 that is the legitimation for Christ’s priestly office. The reason it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo all this human suffering was because he had a role to play in fulfillment of the divine calling to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Thus, the time is now ripe for our author to explain what this special order of priesthood is all about—but that explanation must first be postponed while the author’s frustration with his readers finds expression in a remarkable digression.[1]


An effective priesthood (5:9–10)

He was willing to suffer, and through the Gethsemane experience and what followed he demonstrated the greatest and most costly obedience. But what is meant by the writer’s assertion that being made perfect he became the source of our salvation? It certainly does not mean that before Gethsemane and the cross he was imperfect, any more than the preceding verse meant that prior to such experience he was disobedient. The word ‘perfect’ here obviously does not refer to his moral perfection. It repeats the idea found earlier (2:10) that by his life, death and exaltation Christ became ‘fully qualified’ as our saviour.

This epistle has already noted the six essential qualifications required of God’s Son in order for him to become man’s priest. He had to be appointed by God, identified with men and sensitive to human need, victorious over sin, obedient to the divine purpose and willing to die to effect man’s deliverance. His final qualification was that of his victorious exaltation to the right hand of God when he was ‘crowned with glory and honour’ (2:9). This is what our writer means when he says that ‘once perfected’ (neb) he became the author of eternal salvation. The obedient Son saves those who will respond to his redeeming message with obedient hearts and minds. Completely qualified, he is designated, clearly ‘named by God’ (neb), to all mankind as the high priest of our completely adequate and eternally relevant salvation.

Before we leave this passage with its moving description of Christ’s total submission, we need a further reminder that obedience was not only necessary for him; it is expected also of us. Salvation is for those who obey him. It is important for us to see that when Jesus surrendered himself entirely to God’s will, he obeyed not only in order to honour God but also to help us to see what obedience is all about. In his exposition of this passage, Calvin says: ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the instance and the pattern of His own submission … If we want the obedience of Christ to be of advantage to us, we must copy it.’

These verses are particularly important at a time when some Christians may find themselves tempted to bypass the constant discipline Christ demands in favour of the ‘instant’ or ‘immediate’ holiness offered by some exponents of the Christian life. This is the ‘instant’ age; if a thing is to be had, it must be had now. The idea goes something like this: The promises are there, claim them at this very moment and the prize is yours, whether it is instant sanctification, instant power, or instant healing. We live in a impatient society and the idea of humble submission, patient waiting and steady perseverance does not make a ready appeal. But the way of Christ was the way of persistent obedience. All his life was given to it. He strongly resisted the temptation to have it effected in a spectacular and supernatural moment. He resolutely pursued the will and purpose of God. He knew that it could not be achieved in a magical minute.

Moreover, he made it clear to his followers that his way was to be their way. There was no other. The only possible route to holiness of life was by way of the cross. When the disciples expressed their horror about his cross, he told them about theirs. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ The act of taking up the cross may well occur initially and decisively at a precise moment of time. In that sense there is a crisis. But following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do.[2]


Sacrificing for Men

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (5:9)

In His suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled the third requirement for high priest. He offered the sacrifice of Himself and thereby became the perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. Jesus went through everything He had to go through, and accomplished all He needed to, so He could be such a perfect High Priest. He was not, of course, made perfect in the sense of having His nature improved. He was eternally perfect in righteousness, holiness, wisdom, knowledge, truth, power, and in every other virtue and capability. Neither His nature nor His person changed. He became perfect in the sense that He completed His qualification course for becoming the eternal High Priest.

In offering His sacrifice, however, Jesus differed in two very important ways from other high priests. First, He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself before He could offer it for others. Second, His sacrifice was once-and-for-all. It did not have to be repeated every day, or even every year or every century.

By His death, Jesus opened the way of eternal salvation. All the priests of all time could not provide eternal salvation. They could only provide momentary forgiveness. But by one act, one offering, one sacrifice, Jesus Christ perfected forever those who are His. The perfect High Priest makes perfect those who accept His perfect sacrifice, those who obey Him.

The obedience mentioned here of those who obey Him is not that regarding commandments, rules, and regulations. It is not obedience to the law. It is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). God wants us to obey Him by believing in Christ. True obedience, just as true works, is first of all true believing. “This is the work of God,” Jesus said, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Trust in Jesus Christ is the work of faith and the obedience of faith.

Sadly and tragically, all people do not believe. And whoever does not believe does not truly obey, no matter how moral, well-meaning, religious, and sincere. In First and Second Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the two responses to the gospel—the only two possible responses. In the second letter he tells of God’s retribution on those who “do not know God” and who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8). In the first letter, by contrast, he praises the missionary work of the faithful Thessalonian Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (1:8). Their obedience in the faith brought others to obedience to the faith—and to the gift of eternal salvation.[3]


5:10 / As “the source of eternal salvation” Jesus has been declared high priest by God. The divine Son and yet fully human Jesus possesses the qualifications needed to be high priest: divine appointment (especially through Ps. 110:4) and ability to empathize with those whom he represents to God. He is thus a member of a unique priesthood—of the order of Melchizedek. At this point, however, the argument is interrupted by a long parenthetical warning, and is not resumed until 7:1.[4]


5:9. The fact that Jesus learned obedience perfected him. Jesus was perfect in that he possessed every qualification to be our High Priest. He also was perfect in that God glorified him with exaltation to his right hand.

Made perfect (teleiotheis) describes perfection in the sense of completeness or fulfillment. Jesus was obedient to God’s will in that he endured suffering and death. In doing this Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment or completion. By enduring suffering Jesus attained the goal the Father had for him. This enabled him to become a perfectly equipped high priest.

To say that Jesus was perfect does not suggest that he was imperfect before he suffered. During his human life Jesus’ perfection endured severe testing. None of this testing blackened a single feature of his perfection. Jesus’ perfection was the completion of someone who had faced trials, endured them, and learned to trust God through them. Jesus’ perfection developed in an atmosphere in which he had his obedience tested and strengthened by the trials he faced.

After passing victoriously through suffering, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation. This phrase carries a meaning similar to author of their salvation in 2:10. Jesus’ salvation is eternal because Christ accomplished salvation through a sacrifice which was thorough, effective, permanently valid, and never to be repeated or superseded.

Jesus’ salvation applies only to those who obey him. The practice of obedience does not mean that only the morally perfect receive salvation. We obey the Lord when we accept his provisions for our salvation. Obedience is our acceptance of God’s will. This response to salvation allows the privilege to be available to rich and poor, important and unimportant, Jews and Gentiles, and learned and uneducated. God’s gift of salvation is open to all. The one who learned to obey made salvation available to all who obey.

5:10. This section closes with the announcement that God had designated Jesus to be a high priest in a new order, the order of Melchizedek. This statement added additional confirmation to the emphasis that Jesus served in this position through a divine appointment.

Several features of this order differed from the order of Aaron. First, the order of Melchizedek had no hereditary succession. This feature stood in contrast to the Aaronic order, which saw wave after wave of priests succeeding one another.

Second, it was a unique order because only Christ belonged to it. It was an order which was fit for Christ because it placed him in an entirely different order from that of Aaron.

We might expect the writer of Hebrews to plunge immediately into a discussion of the theme of Melchizedek, but instead he paused to consider some problems among his readers. Their spiritual immaturity was a serious concern to him, and he spent the final four verses of this chapter and most of the following chapter warning them of the dangers of their present attitude. When he finished this warning, he returned to explain more about the significance of Melchizedek in chapter 7.[5]


8. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9. and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10. and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Verses 8–10 are closely connected with the preceding verse. Indeed, in the original Greek the main verb in verses 7 and 8 is “he learned.” That is where the emphasis falls in this passage. Therefore, numerous translations end verse 7 not with a period, but with a comma. This is correct, for the two verses are closely related and form a unit. Incidentally, the stress on the main verb, “he learned,” gives added support to the reading because of his reverent submission.

Consider these questions.

  • Would Jesus have to learn obedience? The author introduces this subject by mentioning the divinity of Jesus first and stating this fact concessively: “although Jesus was the Son of God.” He does not say that because Jesus was divine he had to learn obedience. Jesus did not have to learn anything concerning obedience, for his will was the same as God’s will. However, in his humanity Jesus had to show full obedience; he had to become “obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). As one version has it: “son though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering.”
  • What was the obedience Jesus had to learn? Translations, for reasons of style and diction, speak of obedience. In the original Greek, however, a definite article precedes the noun so that it reads “the obedience”; that is, the well-known obedience expected from the Lord.

When we interpret this verse we are not to think in terms of contrasts. It is true that sinful man needs to correct his ways by listening to God’s Word and turning from disobedience to obedience. But Christ, the sinless One, did not learn by unlearning. Rather, through his active and passive obedience, Christ provides eternal life for the sinner and a discharge of man’s debt of sin. Says Paul in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

  • How was Jesus made perfect? The question is legitimate, for Jesus, as the Son of God, is perfect from eternity. But in his humanity, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We see his development in the school of obedience. As the burden becomes more taxing for Jesus, so his willingness to assume the task his Father has given him increases.

In the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s cross, he endured the ultimate tests. Jesus was made perfect through suffering. His perfection “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The author of Hebrews in effect repeats the thought he expressed in Hebrews 2:10—Jesus, made perfect through suffering, leads many sons to glory. Perfection, therefore, must be seen as a completion of the task Jesus had to perform.

  • What does the writer mean by “the source of eternal salvation”? The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the “author” of salvation (Heb. 2:10) and the “source” of salvation. These two expressions are synonymous. Jesus is the captain, the chief, the originator, and the cause.

When the author uses the word source, he does not open a discussion on the primary cause of salvation; God the Father commissioned his Son to effectuate salvation. Instead the writer uses the term source in the context of his discussion about the high priesthood of Christ. By accomplishing his redemptive work, especially in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, Jesus is the source of eternal salvation (Isa. 45:17). Only those people who obey him will share in the salvation Jesus provides. F. F. Bruce describes the concept of obedience adequately when he writes, “The salvation which Jesus has procured, is granted ‘unto all them that obey him!’ There is something appropriate in the fact that the salvation which was procured by the obedience of the Redeemer should be made available to the obedience of the redeemed.”

  • How does the author of Hebrews conclude his discussion about the priesthood of Christ? He states that God designated Jesus to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. That is significant, because this section about the high priesthood of Christ, beginning with Hebrews 4:14, is presented in terms of Aaron’s priesthood. The section continues and concludes with a clear reference to the priesthood of Melchizedek.

Note the following observations.

Not the writer of Hebrews but God designates Christ as high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4). The writer of Hebrews searches the Old Testament and shows that God addresses his Son as high priest.

The topic of the high priesthood of Christ is important to the author of Hebrews. He introduces the subject in Hebrews 2:17; after a discussion about Israel’s disobedience in the desert and the meaning of rest the author returns to the subject in Hebrews 4:14–5:10; and the theme eventually is fully treated in Hebrews 7.

We also note that Jesus fulfilled the priestly duties of Aaron when he, in his submission and suffering, brought the task God had given him to completion. Thus Jesus became “the source of salvation for all who obey him.” This could never be said of Aaron or any of the high priests who succeeded him.

The subject of Christ’s high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is deep. In fact, the writer of Hebrews calls it “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:11), although after a pastoral word to his readers he does explain it fully.[6]


5:9 And having been perfected. This cannot refer to His personal character because the Lord Jesus was absolutely perfect. His words, His works, and His ways were absolutely flawless. In what sense then was He perfected? The answer is in His office as our Savior. He could never have become our perfect Savior if He had remained in heaven. But through His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, He completed the work that was necessary to save us from our sins, and now He has the acquired glory of being the perfect Savior of the world.

Having returned to heaven, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. He is the Source of salvation for all, but only those who obey Him are saved.

Here salvation is conditional on obeying Him. In many other passages salvation is conditional on faith. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? First of all, it is the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:25–27): “the obedience which God requires is faith in His word.” But it is also true that saving faith is the kind that results in obedience. It is impossible to believe, in the true NT sense, without obeying.

5:10 Having gloriously accomplished the fundamental work of priesthood, the Lord Jesus was addressed by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.”

It should be mentioned here that though Christ’s priesthood is of the Melchizedekan order, yet His priestly functions are similar to those carried on by the Aaronic priests. In fact, the ministry of the Jewish priests was a foreshadow or picture of the work that Christ would accomplish.[7]


9–10 Learning obedience from what he suffered, Jesus was made perfect (‘perfected’) i.e. ‘qualified’ or ‘made completely adequate’ as the saviour of his people (cf. 2:10). More specifically, he was perfected as the source of eternal salvation. Every experience of testing prepared him for a final act of obedience to the Father in his sacrificial death (cf. 10:5–10). By this means he achieved a salvation from sin, death and the devil, enabling those who trust in him to share with him in the life of the world to come. The idea that Christ establishes a pattern of obedience for others to follow is suggested by the words for all who obey him. However, this expression does not indicate that salvation is to be earned by obedience. Salvation is God’s gift to us in Christ, but those who look to him as the unique source of eternal salvation will want to express their faith in ongoing obedience as he did (cf. 12:1–4). Faith in Christ commits us to share in his struggle against sin.[8]


[1] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 77). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Brown, R. (1988). The message of Hebrews: Christ above all (pp. 101–102). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 125–126). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 82). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 94–95). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 138–140). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2171–2172). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1333). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

August 17, 2017: Verse of the day

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John repeated for emphasis the truth from verse 1 that those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been born of God … overcome the world, gaining the victory over it through their faith. The phrase our faith literally reads, “the faith of us.” It could refer to the subjective, personal faith of individual believers, or objectively to the Christian faith, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3; cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:23; Phil. 1:27; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 4:7). It is safe to see in this context of believing that John is referring not to the objective content of the gospel as theology, but to the subjective trust by which God makes saints overcomers.[1]


4 Verse 4 builds on vv. 2–3 by describing the benefits of obedience. All those who are born of God “conquer [nikaō, GK 3771] the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”). The conquest metaphor is consistent with John’s dualistic perspective, which sees a hostile relationship between the world and God’s children. But the precise meaning of nikaō here is open to debate, especially since it seems to contrast starkly with the real-life experiences of the Johannine Christians (see Introduction).

Some suggest that nikaō is used in an eschatological sense. Schnackenburg, 229–30, for example, sees here a reference to “the victory that Christ won once for all in salvation history,” the victory that is “repeated in the lives of the Christians.” By participating in the work of Christ, then, believers experience the future victory over evil in the midst of the pain of this world. Rensberger, 129, takes a somewhat similar view with the suggestion that John is touching on the notion that Satan is “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Jesus has conquered the ruler of this world, and all those who believe share the benefits of this victory. Other commentators believe that John is thinking of the moral sphere of human experience. Dodd, 126–27, for example, says that “the world” refers here to “the power of evil inclinations, false standards and bad dispositions.” “Victory” is achieved when believers choose to obey God and resist temptation (cf. Marshall, 228–29; Schnackenburg, 229).

While both of these views are reasonable, the most likely reference point for the believer’s “victory over the world” is John 16:33. First John 5:4 opens with a hoti clause that seems to introduce a traditional slogan or saying, and the phrase that follows is strongly reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the upper room. After assuring the disciples that they will be hated by the world, put out of the synagogues, and persecuted for his name (Jn 15:18–16:4), Jesus predicts that they will soon scatter and abandon him. Despite all this, they should not be discouraged, because “I have conquered the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”; 16:33).

Jesus’ “conquest” seems to consist of his resolution to obey God’s calling and suffer death. By analogy, 1 John 5:4 uses nikaō to describe the true believer’s willingness to serve God in spite of the world’s persecutions. Hence the conquest of the world may be reduced to “our faith”—the fact of holding fast to the orthodox confession in the face of pressure to abandon Christ. The verb nikaō is used with the same connotation in Revelation, where the believer’s “victory” is gained by overcoming the temptation to abandon the faith in the face of severe suffering and possibly death (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). If 1 John and Revelation were produced by the same person or by members of the same community, these references would also support the interpretation adopted here.[2]


5:4 Next we learn the secret of victory over the world. The world system is a monstrous scheme of temptation, always trying to drag us away from God and from what is eternal, and seeking to occupy us with what is temporary and sensual. People of the world are completely taken up with the things of time and sense. They have become the victims of passing things.

Only the man who is born of God really overcomes the world, because by faith he is able to rise above the perishing things of this world and to see things in their true, eternal perspective. Thus the one who really overcomes the world is not the great scientist or philosopher or psychologist, but the simple believer who realizes that the things which are seen are temporary and that the things which are not seen are eternal. A sight of the glory of God in the face of Jesus dims the glory of this world.[3]


4 This leads on to victory. The neuter ‘whatever’ (niv, everyone) makes the statement quite general (cf. 1:1). Our faith (the noun occurs only here in 1 John; it is not found in the gospel or 2 or 3 John) stands last with emphasis. Has overcome means that the decisive victory is in the past, when Jesus died to overcome evil, and in the case of the individual believer when that believer came to trust in him.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (p. 179). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 490–491). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2322–2323). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Morris, L. L. (1994). 1 John. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1408). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

August 3, 2017: Verse of the day

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Longing for the Courts of the Lord Almighty (84:1–4)

1–4 The love for the “dwelling place” (v. 1) of the Lord is foremost in the heart of the psalmist as he exclaims, “How lovely!” He reflects on the temple proper as the place of God’s symbolic presence, together with “the courts,” where the worshipers and pilgrims assembled and spent their days (v. 2; cf. 43:3). He physically longs for the experience of God’s presence, as he “yearns/faints” with his whole being (“my soul … my heart and my flesh,” v. 2; cf. 16:9). C. S. Lewis, 51, gives fine expression to this desire for God: “I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—called this the ‘appetite for God’ than ‘the love of God.’ The ‘love of God’ too easily suggests the word ‘spiritual’ in all those negative or restrictive senses which it has unhappily acquired.… [The appetite for God] has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.”

The psalmist’s total attention is on the “Lord Almighty” (YHWH ṣebāʾôt, vv. 1, 3, 8, 12; see Reflections, p. 263, Lord Sabaoth), the Great King (v. 2; cf. v. 3), whose blessing he seeks. The Lord Almighty has power over all forces in heaven and on earth. His presence transforms adversity into prosperity, affliction into freedom, and death into life. He is the “living God” (El, v. 2; cf. 42:2; see Reflections, p. 250, Yahweh Is El). It seems that the psalmist develops both motifs in the following strophes—the blessedness of those who experience the kingship of the Lord Almighty (vv. 3–4) and the blessedness of the strength and life of those who long for God. Having expressed the blessedness associated with the presence of the designations Lord Almighty and God, he makes a petition to the Lord Almighty and to God to bless the “anointed” (vv. 8–9). The repetition of “Lord Almighty” at the end of the psalm (v. 12) forms an inclusio with v. 1.

Reflecting on the temple courts, the psalmist pictures the birds that make their nests in the temple eaves. The “sparrow” and the “swallow” (v. 3) are common birds; yet they have their nests and raise their young close to the “altar” of the Lord Almighty. The thought of these lowly birds in such a glorious place overwhelms him and leads the psalmist to express his awe in the form of a blessing (v. 4). Since birds are greatly privileged to live in and around the temple of the Great King, whose name is “Lord Almighty” (Yahweh Sabaoth) and who is worshiped as his God (“my God”), how much more “blessed” (see 1:1) are all those who serve the Lord at his temple! The psalmist is mainly concerned about the Lord and his blessed presence. The temple was symbolic of God’s presence, but his presence was never to be limited to the temple (cf. 1 Ki 8:23–53; Isa 66:1–2).

Characteristic of the wisdom psalms (cf. Ps 1), the psalmist contrasts in v. 10 “the tents of the wicked” and the blessedness of the godly in God’s courts. The reason for this blessedness lies in God’s protection, rewards, and blessing to those who are wise, “those whose walk is blameless” (v. 11). As God’s blessing was not limited to the temple courts, the blessing on those “who dwell” in the house of the Lord may well be extended to all who do the will of God. They dwell in his presence, wherever they may live.[1]


Intense longing for worship (vv. 1–4)

In the first place, we must note his intense longing for worship (vv. 1–4). How great was this longing? The psalmist says it consumed his entire being. He says his soul ‘faints’ with this longing (v. 2). It was almost too much for him to bear.

As he thought about the house of the Lord and its worship, he found himself envying the birds that nested there (v. 3). He may have also referred to these birds to convey something of the benefits of worship. The sparrow is a common emblem for worthlessness (Matt. 10:29–31) and the swallow a common symbol for restlessness. The house of God ministers to both!

The psalmist also expressed envy of those who were always at the temple—that is, the priests.

We must make sure we do not miss the reason for such intense longing. It was because the public worship in the temple was the worship of the Lord of hosts (v. 1). The ‘hosts’ are the heavenly hosts or the heavenly powers. The Lord God is the creator of all the heavenly beings and is their ruler. As such he is worthy of our worship.

We will never feel like worshipping God until we understand something of his greatness, and we cannot help but worship once we do. In other words, there is a direct correlation between our conception of God and our desire for worship. The greater God is in our eyes, the greater will be our desire to worship him.

What can we say of ourselves on this matter of desiring public worship? The sad fact is many who profess to know the Lord have very little or no appetite at all for worship.

It is obvious that many don’t have anything near the intensity of desire this psalmist expresses. What they lack in desire they make up for in excuses, and many of these are so absurd as to be almost unbelievable.

One of my fellow-pastors had a church member who refused to attend church because he claimed to be unable to sit on a pew for any length of time. But one day this pastor passed by the pool hall and noticed this gentleman sitting there. Three hours later the pastor went by the pool hall again and noticed the man sitting in the same place. The pastor, thinking the pool hall must have had some very comfortable seats, went inside. The only seats he found were old, unpadded church pews![2]


84:1, 2 What place can be compared in loveliness to the dwelling place of God! It is a place of unparalleled beauty, unique splendor and unutterable glory. But let us be clear on this point. The place is used, by a figure of speech known as metonymy, for the Person who lives there. And so when the psalmist says, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord,” he was really yearning to be with the Lord Himself. He says as much in the next sentence, “… my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”[3]


1–4 Longing. The soul is the essential ego, heart and flesh the inward and outward aspects of personality: thus the whole person is caught up in a consuming longing for God’s house and for God himself. The thought of the security of the birds that nest on and around the Lord’s house leads to the thought of that which secures the safety of all who dwell there (4), the altar where sinners are reconciled to the Holy God and he to them. 3–4 The sequence is: ‘The birds are safe in their house; it is the place of God’s altar; we are safe in his house.’ The altar is the key to our security.[4]


84:1 lovely are Your dwelling places. The temple worship center was “lovely” because it enabled the OT saint to come into the presence of God (cf. Pss 27; 42:1, 2; 61:4; 63:1, 2). Lord of hosts! “Hosts” represent God’s angelic armies, thus God’s omnipotence over all powers in heaven and on earth (cf. vv. 3, 8, 12).

84:2 longed … yearned … sing for. The psalmist is consumed with his happy, but intense desire to worship God in the temple.[5]


84:1 God’s dwelling place in the OT prefigures Christ as the dwelling place of God (John 1:14; 2:19–21), the church as dwelling place through the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20–22), and the new Jerusalem as final dwelling place (Rev. 21:2–3, 21:22–22:5). See notes on Ps. 23:6 and 27:4.[6]


84:1 your dwelling place. The temple, the place which God chose to reveal His presence to the people (Deut. 12; 1 Kin. 8).

84:2 living God. The true object of the psalmist’s devotion is not the temple building itself, but the God who revealed Himself there. Israel was often tempted to forget God and rely on the external trappings of religion (Jer. 7).[7]


[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 633–634). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ellsworth, R. (2006). Opening up Psalms (pp. 58–60). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 677). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 540). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[5] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 84:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[6] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1044). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 811). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

July 27, 2017: Verse of the day

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7–9 The confident answer begins with an interjection—“surely” (see Notes). Because death is the common experience of humankind, rich and poor alike, the rich cannot boast of any advantage over the poor. They cannot use their money to redeem themselves from death or to send a substitute for themselves. They may live on a grandiose scale so as to give the impression that they will live forever, but they, too, must ultimately face death for what it is—a separation from the land of the living, from the comforts of life, and from social and economic distinctions. This separation is summed up in one word: “the pit” (v. 9; NIV, “decay”). The “pit,” as a synonym for “Sheol” (cf. 16:10), signifies death and possibly retribution for the evil done in life (cf. 94:13).[1]


7–9 Redeemransom, the first word emphasizes finding the price, the second, covering the need. But no payment is sufficient to buy eternal life. Life of another. The Hebrew says ‘even a brother’, i.e. even in a case where love would hold nothing back. There is a case where payment can commute the death penalty (Ex. 21:30)—but Death itself cannot be bought off! [2]


49:7–9 No man can. No person, regardless of his means, is able to escape death; it is inevitable (Heb 9:27). This passage anticipates the second death of hell (cf. Rev 20:11–15), except for those who by faith have repented of their sin and embraced the only adequate ransom—the one paid by the Lord Jesus Christ with His death on the cross (cf. Mt 20:28; 1Pe 1:18, 19).[3]


49:7 Reliance on God is the only solution to death. Such reliance anticipates faith in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 10:9) and the hope for our future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42–57; 1 Thess. 4:13–18).[4]


[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 423). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 517). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 49:7–9). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 997). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

June 10, 2017: Verse of the day

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10–12 The text of the NIV gives the word “yet” twice in this chapter, the previous occurrence being in v. 4. Both verses present reassessment that means the balancing of one partial truth with another, thus giving a full picture. In v. 4 penal suffering is balanced—and so interpreted—by substitution; here humanity’s unjust treatment of the Servant is balanced—and also interpreted—by God’s saving purpose in the Servant’s sufferings. Verse 10a is almost shocking in its apparent presentation of arbitrary disregard for personal righteousness, but the reader may recall the substitutionary nature of those sufferings, already declared in vv. 4–6 and referred to again later in this stanza. At once God is seen not to be harsh but astonishingly gracious.

Verses 10b–11, as rendered in the NIV, remind us of 52:14–15; for after suffering comes vindication, suggesting perhaps at the same time the completion of the Servant’s atoning work in his death and the opening of a new life beyond that death. The guilt offering may have special overtones of completeness, for it involved restitution as well as an offering to God (cf. Lev 5). Nothing then remains to be done; the work is complete.

Verse 11a (cf. Notes), with its contrast of “suffering” and “light,” certainly makes us think of the resurrection, which is still more clearly suggested by the earlier words “prolong his days.” In fact, the words “he will see his offspring and prolong his days” seem to stand in intended contrast with the second and third lines of v. 8. There is a parallel here with Psalm 22, which has so much in common with this passage, where a sufferer now vindicated declares, “Posterity will serve him” (22:30).

Some commentators take the words “by his knowledge” with the preceding clause; but, as Young points out, the Masoretic accentuation, representing of course the Jewish traditional understanding, links it with the words that follow it. If this is so, are we to take the pronominal suffix to be subjective, as the NIV does (“by his knowledge”), or objective, as in the NIV’s margin (“by knowledge of him”)? Young (in loc.) well expresses the contextual argument for the latter: “In this context the servant appears, not as a teacher, but as a saviour. Not by his knowledge does he justify men, but by bearing their iniquities.” We are saved not simply by revelation but by redemptive suffering, the latter being the teaching of the context of this verse. In this case, then, it is the experiential knowledge of faith that is in view; and we have here an important background for the Pauline doctrine of justification through the blood of Christ, appropriated by faith.

The adjective “righteous” and the verb “will justify,” coming from the same Hebrew root (ṣdq), are placed next to each other in the Hebrew, as though to stress their relationship. Calvin stressed that the obedience of Christ is the chief circumstance of his death. His righteousness and therefore his innocence of sin furnish a basis for his substitution. The final clause of v. 11, with its reminder of v. 6 (see comments there), states the objective grounds of this justification, which is of course a new position before God, the righteous Judge, on the basis of what the Servant has achieved in his sufferings and not of what we have ourselves done or will do. Strikingly, the emphatic “he” is used again in this clause (see comment on vv. 4–6). Here, then, is One who is both God and God’s Servant dealing with human sin!

The opening statement of v. 12, reminding many commentators of Philippians 2:9, shows how God honors the Servant for his faithful work and the Servant in turn distributes the spoils of battle to others. In fact it introduces a new note into the passage; for 52:13, to which in other ways it answers, contains no military language. The NT, however, does, and Christ’s work there is presented as a victory over spiritual foes, resulting in a distribution of the spoil to those made strong in him (cf., e.g., Eph 4:8; 6:10–17).

J. Jeremias (Servant of God [W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, eds.; London: SCM, 1957], 97), L. S. Thornton (The Dominion of Christ [Westminster: Darce, 1952], 91–95), and others have argued that the words heauton ekenōsen (“made himself nothing”) in Philippians 2:7 are a translation from a Semitic original meaning “he poured himself out” and are based on this verse. Thornton further points out that the clause can in fact be completed by the words “to death” from v. 8. Here, in both passages, is the ultimate in self-abnegation in dedication to the will of God.

The last three clauses of v. 12 sum up the matter. The Servant was numbered with the transgressors not only in the outward circumstances of his death (Mk 15:27 [NIV mg.]), but also as a general description of the meaning of his sufferings (Lk 22:37). Innocent, he was charged with human sins and so bears their penalty. Beyond this, as the letter to the Hebrews proclaims, he now has an intercessory ministry based on the finality of his sufferings. This means that even when vindicated by God, he is still concerned to minister to his people.

In 44:28 the name “Cyrus” is solemnly and dramatically revealed long before his coming. Our present passage speaks so eloquently of the work of Christ that even the inclusion of his name could add but little more to the extent of its disclosure of him.[1]


53:10, 11a Yet the Lord saw fit to bruise Him, to put Him to grief. When His soul has been made an offering for sin, He will see His posterity, that is, all those who believe on Him, He shall prolong His days, living in the power of an endless life. All God’s purposes shall be realized through Him. Seeing the multitudes of those who have been redeemed by His blood He will be amply satisfied.

53:11b “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many.” This may mean that His knowledge of the Father’s will led Him to the cross, and it is by His death and resurrection that He can reckon believers to be righteous. Or it may mean “by the knowledge of Him,” that is, it is by coming to know Him that men are justified (John 17:3). In either case, it is through His bearing their iniquities that justification is possible for the “many.”

The last stanza of Thomas Chisholm’s hymn, quoted above, reads triumphantly:

Who can number His generation?

Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?

Millions, dead, now live again,

Myriads follow in His train!

Victorious Lord, victorious Lord,

Victorious Lord and coming King![2]


11–12 Other aspects of his saving work are shown in terms of justification, sin-bearing, identification (numbered with the transgressors; cf. Lk. 22:37) and intercession, i.e. intervention. He is presented as priest and sacrifice, patriarch (10b) and king. Finally, the manymany in vs 11–12 (the same word is translated great in v 12) for whom the one suffered, reappear in fulfilment of the opening promise (cf. 52:14–15, ‘many … many’).[3]


53:11 He will … be satisfied. The one sacrifice of the Servant will provide complete satisfaction in settling the sin issue (1Jn 2:2; cf. 1:11). By His knowledge. The Servant knew exactly what needed to be done to solve the sin problem. justify the many. Through the divine “knowledge” of how to justify sinners, the plan was accomplished that by His one sacrifice He declared many righteous before God (Ro 5:19; 2Co 5:21).[4]


53:11 he shall see and be satisfied. The outcome of the servant’s sufferings is not regret but the satisfaction of obvious accomplishment. by his knowledge. His experiential knowledge of grief (v. 3, see ESV footnote). many. His triumph, which does not secure the salvation of every individual without exception (universalism), spreads out beyond the remnant of Israel to “a great multitude that no one could number” (Rev. 7:9; cf. Rom. 5:15). to be accounted righteous. See Rom. 4:11–12.

53:11 Christ’s death and resurrection results in our justification (Rom. 3:23–26; 4:25; 5:19).[5]


53:11 he will see All intact Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts and the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Bible) contain the word “light”; the Masoretic Text simply reads “he will see.” The most probable original text is “he will see light” (Dead Sea Scrolls) or “he will show him light” (Septuagint). The word “light” is required for the text to make sense poetically. This variant is a sign that the Servant experiences postmortem life, though it is not the only sign.

he will be satisfied The Servant may be satisfied by the fact that he has fulfilled Yahweh’s will (Isa 53:10). It is also possible that he is satisfied because he has suffered for the transgressions of God’s people (vv. 5–7). Or, the Servant could be satisfied in his resurrected life.

In his knowledge An elaboration on the previous line. The Servant knows that he has borne the iniquities of many and will make many righteous. He has learned this through his anguish (his suffering).

my servant Yahweh begins speaking again.

shall declare many righteous Like Israel—as Yahweh’s servant—was commanded to bring forth justice to the nations, the Servant makes many righteous.

will bear their iniquities The iniquities of the people are placed upon the Servant (similar to the goat on the Day of Atonement in Lev 16:22).[6]


53:11 knowledge. This is a reference to His insight into the divine plan (52:13 note).

righteous. See Rom. 5:19.

accounted righteous. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to His people (53:6 note), and in return He accepted their guilt so as to “bear their iniquities.” See “Justification and Merit” at Gal. 3:11.[7]


[1] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 802–803). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 980). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 663). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 53:11). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1339). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 53:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[7] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1029). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

June 2 – Integrity Triumphs over Adversity

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god.”

Daniel 1:1–2

✧✧✧

Integrity shines brightest against the backdrop of adversity.

Our passage today tells of the tragic time in Israel’s history when God chastened her severely by allowing King Nebuchadnezzar and the wicked nation of Babylon to march against her and take her captive. God never coddles His people, nor does He wink at their sin. Israel’s chastening illustrates the principle that “judgment [begins] with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). But as severe as His discipline can be, it is always aimed at producing greater righteousness and godly integrity in His children (Heb. 12:5–11).

The Babylonian captivity set the stage for a truly uncommon display of integrity from Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. In the days ahead we will examine their character in some depth. For now, however, be encouraged that adversity of any kind—even chastening for sin—is God’s way of providing the rich soil for nourishing and strengthening the spiritual fruit of integrity. Without the adversities of Babylon, Daniel’s integrity and that of his friends would not have shone as brightly as it did and would not have had the significant impact it had on King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire kingdom.

Perhaps you are currently experiencing adversities that are especially challenging, and you may not yet understand what God is accomplishing through them. But like Daniel and his friends, you can pray for the wisdom to understand His will and the faith to trust Him through the process. And you can be assured He will never fail you.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Each day your integrity is tested in many ways. Ask the Lord to help you be aware of those times and to make choices that honor Him.

For Further Study: Read 1 Kings 9:3–5. What kind of integrity did God require of Solomon? ✧ What promises did He make if Solomon obeyed?[1]


Historical Introduction (1:1–2)

Commentary

1 King Jehoiakim (609–597 BC) was installed as a “puppet king” by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt after the death of King Josiah (cf. 2 Ki 23:30, 34). The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign dates Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem and Daniel’s subsequent captivity to 605 BC. This date accords with the accession-year method characteristic of the Babylonian system for computing regnal years (i.e., reckoning a king’s first full year of kingship to commence on the New Year’s Day after his accession to the throne, or 608 BC for Jehoiakim; cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 16–18). Critics point to the chronological discrepancy in the biblical reporting of the date of the event in that Jeremiah synchronizes the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign with the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign (Jer 25:1, 9; cf. Porteous, 25–26). Yet if one assumes that Jeremiah is based on a nonaccession-year method of reckoning regnal years (more common to Egyptian and Syro-Palestinian practice), the difficulty fades and the dates are readily harmonized (cf. Longman and Dillard, 376–77).

Beyond this, critics dispute the historical veracity of Daniel’s report of a Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC because there is no record of such an incursion into Palestine at that time (cf. Redditt, 43). There is, however, indirect evidence for a Babylonian campaign in Palestine in 605 BC. Josephus (Ag. Ap. 1:19) cites a Babylonian priest-historian named Berossus, who recorded that Nebuchadnezzar was engaged in campaigns in Egypt, Syria, and Phoenicia at the time his father died (cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 15). Further, a cuneiform tablet published in 1956 indicates that Nebuchadnezzar “conquered the whole area of the Hatti-country” shortly after the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The geographical term “Hatti” would have included the whole of Syria and Palestine at this time period (cf. Miller, 57; see also Donald J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1961], 69).

The siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC, then, was the first of three major invasions of Palestine by Babylonians (although there is no reference to armed conflict in vv. 1–2, and the verb “besieged” [Heb. ṣwr] may suggest more threat than substance, as evidenced in Goldingay’s [3] translation “blockaded”; cf. Wood, 30, who comments that “likely only token resistance was made, with the Judeans recognizing the wisdom of peaceful capitulation”).

The second incursion occurred at the end of Jehoiakim’s reign in 598 BC, when King Nebuchadnezzar was finally in a position to move against the disloyal Judean vassal (Jehoiakim had rebelled earlier against Babylonia ca. 603 BC; cf. 2 Ki 24:1–7). By the time Nebuchadnezzar reached Jerusalem, Jehoiakim had died and Jehoiachin his son was king of Judah (2 Ki 24:8). As a result of this invasion of Judah, King Jehoiachin was deposed and exiled along with ten thousand citizens of Jerusalem (including Ezekiel; 2 Ki 24:10–17; cf. Eze 1:1–2).

The third Babylonian invasion of Judah was swift and decisive. Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem in 588 BC and after a lengthy siege, the city was sacked, Yahweh’s temple was plundered and destroyed, and Davidic kingship in Judah ceased (2 Ki 24:18–25:21).

Nebuchadnezzar II was the eldest son of Nabopolassar and is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient times. He ruled the Babylonian Empire from 605–562 BC—an empire that stretched across the ancient Near East from Elam in the east to Egypt in the west. Miller, 56, notes that the writer of Daniel refers proleptically to Nebuchadnezzar as “king of Babylon,” since he was actually crowned king some two or three months after the siege of Jerusalem.

The city of Babylon lay on the Euphrates River, some fifty miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq. It reached the height of its splendor as the capital of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire because of the extensive building activities of Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar. The storied Hanging Gardens of Babylon were counted among the “wonders” of the ancient world. The prophet Jeremiah predicted the overthrow of Babylon as divine retribution for her evil deeds (Jer 25:12–14; cf. Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 13:2–22 against the city of Babylon during the Assyrian period). In the NT, Babylon symbolizes the decadence and wickedness of Rome (cf. 1 Pe 5:13; Rev 14:8).

2 From the outset of the book, the record clearly indicates that Nebuchadnezzar’s success is not entirely his own doing. The Lord “delivered” (cf. NASB, “gave”) Jehoiakim into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar in that he permitted the Babylonian subjugation of Judah. (See NIDOTTE, 3:206, on the use of the Heb. verb nātan [“to give”] to connote “hand over in judgment.”) This introductory statement reveals the unifying theme for the whole book: God’s sovereign rule of human history. God’s judgment of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah was not capricious or arbitrary. The threat of divine punishment, including exile from the land of the Abrahamic promise, was embedded in the blessings and curses of the Mosaic covenant (cf. Lev 18:24–30; 26; Dt 28). Owing to God’s covenantal faithfulness, he was extremely patient and longsuffering with his people Israel, warning them through his prophets over centuries of the dire consequences of habitual covenantal disobedience (cf. Ne 9:29–32). Daniel was not oblivious to all this, as attested by his prayer for his people (Da 9:4–11).

Placing objects plundered from the temples of vanquished enemies as trophies of war in the temple(s) of the gods of the victors was common practice in the biblical world (e.g., 1 Sa 5:2). The act symbolized the supremacy of the deities of the conquering nation over the gods of the peoples and nations subjugated by the imperialist armies (cf. BBCOT, 287). The articles or vessels from the Jerusalem temple confiscated by Nebuchadnezzar are not itemized. It is possible these articles were given as tribute to Nebuchadnezzar in order to lift the siege against the city (after the earlier example of the payments made by kings Ahaz and Hezekiah to the Assyrians; cf. 2 Ki 16:8; 18:15). The temple treasury cache may have included gold and silver ceremonial cups and utensils displayed to the envoy of the Babylonian king Merodach-Baladan by King Hezekiah a century earlier (cf. 2 Ki 20:12–13). The prophet Isaiah rebuked Hezekiah’s pride and predicted his treasures would be plundered and carried off to Babylon (Isa 39:6; cf. the prohibition in Dt 17:17 against stockpiling wealth given to the Hebrew kings in anticipation of an Israelite monarchy).

Later, King Belshazzar paraded these gold and silver goblets before his nobles at a great feast, precipitating the episode of the writing on the wall and the demise of his kingship (Da 5:1–2, 25–31). Finally, some of these implements may have been part of the larger inventory of temple treasure plundered by the Babylonians that King Cyrus of Persia restored to the Hebrews and that were relocated in Judah when the exiles returned to the land under the leadership of Sheshbazzar (Ezr 1:7–11). All this serves as a reminder that everything under heaven belongs to God and that he providentially oversees what belongs to him—whether his people Israel or drinking bowls from his temple (cf. Job 41:11).

The historical setting laid out in the opening verses is also important to the theology of exile developed in the book of Daniel. It is clear from Daniel’s prayer in ch. 9 that he is aware of Jeremiah’s prophecies projecting a Babylonian exile lasting some seventy years (Da 9:2; cf. Jer 25:12; 29:10). The date formulas in books of subsequent prophets of the exile, such as Jeremiah (e.g., Jer 52:31) and Ezekiel (e.g., Eze 1:2), serve as “covenantal time-clocks” of sorts as they track the chronological progression of God’s judgment against his people for their sin of idolatry in anticipation of the restoration of Israel to the land of covenantal promise (Jer 44:3–6; cf. Lev 18:24–30). Elements of Daniel’s “theology of exile” developed in later sections of the commentary include: the value of prayer for Hebrews in the Diaspora, the role obedience and faithfulness to God play in the success of the Hebrews in the Diaspora, and insights into the nature and character of divine justice and human suffering in the light of the persecution experienced by Israel during and after the Babylonian exile.

More significant for the Hebrews was the crisis in theology created by the historical setting of the Babylonian exile. The Israelites, the people of Yahweh, lost possession of their land, had their temple razed, and had the office of kingship eradicated in one fell swoop to the marauding hordes of King Nebuchadnezzar and the gods of Babylonia. As Wallace, 31, observes, the Hebrews needed a new theology. God’s people needed a “Diaspora theology” addressing the problem of how to live as a minority group in an alien majority culture sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly; how were they to “fit in without being swallowed up?” The remainder of ch. 1 and the rest of the court stories take up the challenge of answering this very question.[2]


1:1–2 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (605 b.c.), Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took Daniel and other promising young people to Babylon to be trained in Babylonian culture and literature. This deportation was the beginning of what came to be known as the Babylonian exile, which was the result of the Lord’s judgment on his people. In Lev. 26:33, 39 the Lord threatened his people with exile if they were unfaithful to the terms of the covenant established at Mount Sinai (see also Deut. 4:27; 28:64). After a lengthy history of disobedience, this threat was carried out in several stages, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in 586 b.c. The final destruction and exile were foreshadowed by this earlier exile in which vessels of the house of God were taken into captivity along with some of his people. Daniel calls it the “third year of the reign of Jehoiakim,” apparently using the Babylonian system for counting the length of a reign, while Jer. 25:1 calls it “the fourth year,” using the Jewish system. (Reigns could be counted from the beginning of the new year preceding a king’s ascension, or from the actual date of ascension, or from the beginning of the new year following his ascension; the third system was used in Babylon.)[3]


1:1 the third year The third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (606 bc) does not coincide with the known siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 bc (compare v. 1 with 2 Kgs 24:10–12; 2 Chr 36:9–10)—a discrepancy that makes it difficult to determine when Daniel was taken to Babylon. The sources Daniel used to determine his dates no longer exist and vary with the sources we have today.

Various cultures reckoned the king’s first year of service from different starting points. For example, in the “accession year” system, the king’s first official regnal year would begin with the arrival of the New Year—regardless of when he actually became king. Daniel may have been utilizing the “non-accession year” system, where the king’s reign begins when he actually assumes the throne. However, Daniel most likely employed the “postdating system,” where the king’s reign begins following the completion of his first full year in office. Babylonian record-keeping typically uses this method. While knowing which dating system was in place helps harmonize certain conflicting passages (compare Dan 1:1 with Jer 25:1), this cannot reconcile time gaps greater than one year. In this passage, the main issue is when and how many times Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem.

The difficulty concerns the timing of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack(s) on Jerusalem. His final destruction of Jerusalem occurred in 586 bc. Daniel 1:1 claims that a siege occurred in 606 bc—during the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (609–597 bc). The Babylonian Chronicles—which are tablets that record the history of Babylon—report a siege that occurred during the reign of Jehoiachin in 597 bc, but this was after the death of Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 24:10–17). While 2 Chr 36:5–10 records that Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem twice in a brief period, other ancient documents do not mention an earlier siege. It may be that the event mentioned here was not a formal siege, or Nebuchadnezzar may have sent others to deal with Jehoiakim (compare 2 Kgs 18:13–37, where both kings are represented by others).

Daniel 1:1 Daniel (Hermeneia)

Chronology of the Monarchy BEB

Regnal Chronology

 

Accession Year System

 

Length of reign begins at New Year

 

Non-Accession Year System

 

Length of reign begins at coronation

 

Postdating System

 

Length of reign begins after first full year

 

Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon from 605 to 562 bc.

 Nebuchadnezzar

Known as a master builder and military architect, Nebuchadnezzar was the pride of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He ruled for 43 years (605–562 bc) and gained fame by defeating the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 bc just before ascending the throne. Historical sources emphasize his vast army and warring tendencies, portraying him as a king obsessed with conquest and power. He is portrayed similarly in Daniel but is used to make a theological point: The power of earthly rulers comes from God. Nebuchadnezzar is given power to exercise a temporary judgment on Judah. But his pride will be his downfall, and his vast kingdom will eventually belong to another foreign king.

besieged it According to the Babylonian Chronicles, Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem occurred in 597 bc.

The Babylonian Chronicles are a series of tablets discovered in the late 19th century. They present a selective series of accounts about Babylonian history covering the period from around 625–225 bc. Unlike other historical documents from the ancient Near East, these texts reflect an accurate catalog of historical events and omit the self-aggrandizing qualities often found in Egyptian texts. For example, they chronicle defeats as well as victories—a practice almost without parallel in antiquity—making them one of the earliest attempts at historiography. They assist in our understanding of the biblical record, particularly the book of Daniel, and cover some of the events leading up to (and including) Judah’s exile to Babylon.

1:2 into his hand Expresses the sovereignty of God over the nations—a theme repeated throughout the book. God can direct the destinies of foreign kingdoms and rulers, as well as His own people. Judah’s exile to Babylon is also viewed within this framework.

The setting for the book of Daniel is the deportation of Judah to Babylon, or the Babylonian exile. When Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish and subsequently became king in 605 bc, Judah fell under Babylonian control. Jehoiakim, then king of Judah, was a submissive vassal for three years, then rebelled. His rebellion brought reprisals from Nebuchadnezzar, who besieged Jerusalem in 597 bc. Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, was forced to yield after three months (see 2 Kgs 24:8, 10–12). As a result, he and many of the leading citizens of Judah were exiled to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:13–17). A second rebellion in 586 bc by Zedekiah brought about the full measure of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath; Jerusalem was destroyed and the remaining population was brought to Babylon (see 2 Kgs 24:18–25:21). For the theological reason behind the exile, see Dan 9:2 and note.

The court tales of Daniel and his three friends (chs. 1–6) are placed within this setting of living under Babylonian domination. They function as “hope literature,” providing a sense of encouragement that God has authority over His people’s future. They are also didactic, teaching the exiles how to live righteously among their captors. The fruit of righteousness is seen in God’s continual deliverance of those who do right. The latter half of the book—chs. 7–12—deals with a later persecution. The arguments over when the book of Daniel was written involve this change of setting halfway through the book. Traditionally, Daniel is considered the author, so the book must have been written in his lifetime (sixth century bc). The stories in chs. 1–6 relate to Daniel and his friends in sixth-century Babylon. The change in style and character of chs. 7–12—with its focus on future events, especially those of the early second century bc—have led some to conclude that the book was written after Daniel’s lifetime.

the land of Shinar The ancient Hebrew name for Babylon, used here, was “Shinar” (see Gen 11:2 and note).

he brought the utensils See 2 Chronicles 36:10. In ancient Near Eastern warfare, placing the objects of a defeated enemy in the temple of one’s god was a common practice. It represented a thanksgiving offering for victory in battle and expressed superiority over the god of the defeated enemy. Israel’s God will eventually punish Babylon for this offense.

of his gods Marduk or Bel. Rather than add further shame to the captives by destroying the vessels, Nebuchadnezzar preserves them. While Nebuchadnezzar is eventually punished for his pride, Daniel presents him here in a positive light.[4]


1:1 the third year. 605 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar defeated a coalition of Assyria and Egypt at Carchemish and initiated Babylon’s rise to international power. After the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar advanced against Jehoiakim (2 Kin. 24:1, 2; 2 Chr. 36:5–7) and took some Judeans captive, including Daniel. This was the first of three invasions of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. The second was in 597 b.c. (2 Kin. 24:10–14), and the third in 586 b.c. (2 Kin. 25:1–24). In the book of Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s attack is dated to Jehoiakim’s fourth year instead of the third (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). The difference occurs because in the Babylonian chronology, which Daniel apparently used, the king’s reign was officially counted from the first day of the succeeding new year, rather than from the actual date of his accession to the throne.

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians to victory at Carchemish as crown prince and commander of the army. Shortly after this victory, he assumed the Babylonian throne when his father Nabopolassar died (626–605 b.c.). Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605–562 b.c.) is the historical context for much of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

1:2 the Lord gave … into his hand. Israel’s defeat by the Babylonians is not to be explained simply by analysis of military and political factors. God is at work in the affairs of the nations, and the message to Daniel’s original audience is that He has used the Babylonians to judge His own people for their transgressions (2 Kin. 17:15, 18–20; 21:12–15; 24:3, 4). Under the terms of the covenant made at Mount Sinai, the Lord threatened to exile His people if they were unfaithful (Lev. 26:33, 39). The length of their tenure in the land in spite of their unfaithfulness is a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Their unfaithfulness culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the majority of the remaining population by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 b.c.

the vessels of the house of God. These same temple vessels are brought out by Belshazzar for his feast in Dan. 5 and will be returned to Judah with the exiles in the time of Cyrus (Ezra 1:7).

the treasury of his god. Marduk (or Bel) is the chief god of the Babylonian pantheon (cf. Jer. 50:2).[5]


1:1–2 Man proposes, God disposes

The story of Daniel is introduced by two statements which provide both the historical and theological context for the entire narrative. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Palestine on several occasions. The siege referred to here took place in 605 bc, the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign (by Babylonian reckoning. Je. 25:1, which refers to the same incident, uses Jewish reckoning, counting from the new year prior to a king’s accession.) Notice that this horizontal perspective on history is coupled with a vertical or theological one: the Lord delivered Jehoiakim. Immediately we are introduced to the underlying themes of the entire book:

Babylon versus Jerusalem, the city of this world against the city of God (Augustine), a conflict traced in Scripture to its climax in Revelation (see Rev. 14:8; 17:5; 18:2–24). Ultimately this conflict is rooted in the declaration of Gn. 3:15.

The sovereign reign of God, despite all appearances to the contrary. In the fall of Jerusalem prophecy was fulfilled (e.g. Is. 39:6–7; Je. 21:3–10; 25:1–11) and the judgments of God’s covenant (of which the prophets had warned) were inaugurated (i.e. Dt. 28:36–37, 47–49, 52, 58). The exile was a judgment on Jehoiakim’s reign (2 Ch. 36:5–7), but the rot had set in long before (2 Ki. 24:1–4). To outward appearances Nebuchadnezzar was triumphant, and God’s name shamed (the placing of the temple articles in the treasure-house of his god marking the triumph of the pagan deity Nabu over Yahweh). In reality, however, nothing is outside the divine rule (cf. Is. 45:7; Eph. 1:11b) as Nebuchadnezzar himself was eventually brought to recognize (4:35). In Daniel the experience of Joseph is repeated (Gn. 45:4–7; 50:20).[6]


 

Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 BC, the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system (cf. 2 Kings 23:36–24:2), as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the exile of Judah, spoken of by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned, and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed, during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported (597 BC). The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 BC).[7]


1:1 Jehoiakim king of Judah reigned from 608 to 598 b.c. The third year was 605 b.c., according to the chronological system used by Daniel in which only whole years were counted. Jeremiah, on the other hand, followed a system in which any part of a year was counted as a full year. Therefore, he designated 605 b.c. as the fourth year of Jehoiakim (Jer. 25:1; 36:1; 46:2). Jehoiakim was an evil king who sided first with the Egyptians and then with the Babylonians until 602 b.c. when he rebelled. His independence was short-lived, however, and Jehoiakim remained under Babylonian domination until his death. The son of Nabopolassar, the founder of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire, was Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned from 605 to 562 b.c. In the summer of 605 b.c. when his father died, Nebuchadnezzar was leading the Babylonian armies. He returned to Babylon to secure the throne, but not before he besieged Jerusalem and seized loot and prisoners, including Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar greatly enlarged the empire begun by his father and revived the worship of the ancient Babylonian gods, especially Marduk.

1:2 the Lord gave: The Book of Daniel emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations. Jerusalem did not fall merely because Nebuchadnezzar was strong, but because God had judged the people of Judah for their disobedience and idolatry. some of the articles: The remainder of the articles were removed later when Jehoiakim surrendered (2 Kin. 24:13; 2 Chr. 36:18). Shinar—that is, Babylon—was located on the Euphrates River fifty miles south of present-day Baghdad in Iraq. into the treasure house: The articles taken from the house of God appear later, on the night of Belshazzar’s feast (ch. 5). Eventually they were returned to Zerubbabel who brought them back to Israel (Ezra 1:7).[8]


Background (1:1–2). Daniel was exiled in 605 b.c., the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, together with a cross-section of prominent citizens and craftsmen (Jer. 25:1; 46:2). Daniel’s method of reckoning differs from that of the Palestinian system, as he writes “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). It appears that this manner of reckoning is based on the Babylonian system, according to which the first year began with the New Year.

The tragedy of that hour was that “the Lord delivered” (1:2) Jehoiakim, articles from the temple, and prominent citizens into captivity. This was the beginning of the great exile of Judah, predicted by Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk. The people had sinned and the Lord had to discipline his rebellious children.

This was the first exile; a second followed during which Ezekiel and King Jehoiachin were deported. The third exile followed the desolation of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (586 b.c.).[9]


[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 45–48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1586). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Da 1:1–2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1464). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] Ferguson, S. B. (1994). Daniel. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., pp. 748–749). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[7] Burge, G. M., & Hill, A. E. (Eds.). (2012). The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (p. 785). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1008). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] VanGemeren, W. A. (1995). Daniel. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, pp. 591–592). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

May 24, 2017: Verse of the day

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55:10, 11 God’s word is just as irresistible and effective as the rain and snow. All the armies in the world cannot stop them, and they accomplish their intended purpose. God’s Word never fails to achieve its aims:

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.[1]


55:10, 11 rain … snow … My word. Moisture from heaven invariably accomplishes its intended purpose in helping meet human physical needs. The Word of God will likewise produce its intended results in fulfilling God’s spiritual purposes, especially the establishment of the Davidic kingdom on earth (vv. 1–5).[2]


55:10–11 As the rain and the snow cannot fail to nourish the earth, so God’s word of promise cannot fail to bring his people into the richness and fullness of eternal life. Human good intentions fail, but God’s promises succeed (cf. 40:6–8). The word of God not only describes a glorious future, it is God’s appointed means to create that future (cf. Ezek. 37:1–14).[3]


55:11 It shall not return to me without success Yahweh’s word cannot fail to bring about the desired results (compare 40:8). The word of God contains very real power to accomplish His will. Creation happened through divine speech in Gen 1 (compare Psa 33:6, 9), and Yahweh brought life back into lifeless bones through the prophetic words of Ezekiel (Ezek 37:1–14).[4]


55:10, 11 rain. The rain falls abundantly and of its own accord, and in a familiar but mysterious way produces plants and useful crops, evidently for the purpose of supplying people’s needs. The divine purpose in this is applied figuratively to the word of God in order to distinguish it from fallible human thoughts and plans. It also speaks of the Lord’s word as His decree by which He governs history. It never returns without accomplishing God’s sovereign purposes. Cf. 40:8.[5]

55:11 It is the divine origin (or character) of God’s word, and not some magical power, which causes it to accomplish the purpose for which it is sent (cf. Heb. 4:12).[6]

10–11 The declaration of vs 8–9 not only looks back to v 7 but on to vs 10–13, to shame us out of our small expectations. God’s thoughts are more far-reaching and more fertile, as well as higher, than ours. The comparison of his word with rain andsnow suggests a slow and silent work, transforming the face of the earth in due time. The reference is to his decree (cf. e.g. 44:26; 45:23) rather than his invitation or instruction, which can be refused (48:18–19; cf. the similar imagery to that of v 10 in Heb. 6:4–8).[7]

55:10, 11 bring forth: For a similar reference, see 2 Cor. 9:10. God’s word is similar to rainfall; it produces fruit (Ps. 147:15–20). Just as water enlivens and strengthens a withering rose, God’s word produces life in the hearts of sinners.[8]

55:10–11. Having spoken of the future time of blessing (the Millennium) and the salvation which leads to it, the Lord then assured believers that His Word … will accomplish what He says it will. His word is like rain and snow that water the earth and help give it abundant vegetation. In the Near East dry hard ground can seemingly overnight sprout with vegetation after the first rains of the rainy season. Similarly when God speaks His Word, it brings forth spiritual life, thus accomplishing His purpose.[9]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 55:10). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1342). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Is 55:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1228). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

[6] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Is 55:11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Kidner, F. D. (1994). Isaiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 664). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 865). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[9] Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1111). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

MAY 18 – GOD DOES NOT HAVE POWER: GOD IS POWER

God hath spoken once: twice have I heard this: that power belongeth unto God.

PSALM 62:11

It is hard for us sons of the machine age to remember that there is no power apart from God! Whether physical, intellectual, moral or spiritual, power is contained in God, flows out from Him and returns to Him again. The power that works throughout His creation remains in Him even while it operates in an atom or a galaxy!

The notion that power is something God separates from Himself and tosses out to work apart from Him is erroneous. The power of nature is the Presence of God in the universe. This idea is woven into the book of Job, the Psalms and the Prophets.

The writings of John and Paul in the New Testament harmonize with this Old Testament doctrine, and in the book of Hebrews it is said that Christ upholds all things by the word of His power.

We must not think of the power of God as wild, irrational energy coursing haphazardly through the world like a lightning strike or a tornado. This is the impression sometimes created by Bible teachers who keep reminding us that dunamis, the Greek word for power, is the root from which comes our word “dynamite.” Little wonder that sensitive Christians shrink from contact with such a destructive and unpredictable force.

The power of God is not something God has: it is something God is! Power is something that is true of God as wisdom and love are true of Him. It is, if we might so state it, a fact of His being, one with and indivisible from everything else that He is. The power of God is one with God’s will and works only as He wills that it should. It is His holy Being in action![1]


62:11 Once God has spoken The psalmist uses a numerical saying—a literary device common in Wisdom Literature—as he looks to God’s promises (see Prov 30:18 and note).[2]


62:11 once, Twice: It is a convention of wisdom literature to use a number and then raise it by one (Prov. 30:11–33). The point here is that David has heard the message with certainty.[3]


62:11, 12 once, Twice: The ascending number emphasizes the truth of the following statement. To God belong power and mercy; He gives to each one as we deserve (see 1 Cor. 3:8).[4]


62:11–12. The psalmist contrasted this with the fact that God has declared that the power is His. David heard God say two things: that He is strong and loving. So justice will be meted out to everybody. How much better then to find rest in the powerful God than in human devices.[5]


11, 12 God has power (unlike man in his insubstantiality, 9) and unchanging love (unlike man’s deceitfulness, 9). Not only so, but his loving power is an active force of moral providence (12) whereby he ‘fully requites’ (reward). Therefore we can trust him for our welfare and against the works of our enemies.[6]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 62:11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 689). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[4] The Open Bible: New King James Version. (1998). (electronic ed., Ps 62:11–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Ross, A. P. (1985). Psalms. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 839). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 524). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

MAY 8 – MOST IMPORTANT: YOUR NAMES WRITTEN IN HEAVEN

…Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the LORD, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the LORD.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:58

Those who are active in Christian service must beware of two opposite pitfalls: the elation that comes with success on the one hand, or the discouragement that comes with failure, on the other.

These may be considered by some as trivial, but the history of the Christian ministry will not support this conclusion. They are critically dangerous and should be guarded against with great care.

The disciples returned to Christ with brimming enthusiasm, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name,” and He quickly reminded them of another being who had allowed success to go to his head.

“I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” He said. “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”

The second of these twin dangers need not be labored. Every minister of the gospel knows how hard it is to stay spiritual when his work appears to be fruitless. Yet he is required to rejoice in God as certainly when he is having a bad year as when he is seeing great success, and to lean heavily upon Paul’s assurance that “your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”[1]


The Great Exhortation

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (15:58)

If we really believe and if we are truly thankful that our resurrection is sure, that we will be transformed from the perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural, mortal, and earthy to the imperishable, glorious, powerful, spiritual, immortal, and heavenly—we should therefore prove our assurance and our thankfulness by being steadfast, immovable [negative] and always abounding [positive] in the work of the Lord.

Hedraios (steadfast) literally refers to being seated, and therefore to being settled and firmly situated. Ametakinētos (immovable) carries the same basic idea but with more intensity. It denotes being totally immobile and motionless. Obviously Paul is talking about our being moved away from God’s will, not to our being moved within it. Within His will we are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord. But we should not move a hairbreadth away from His will, continually being careful not to be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).

Gordon Clark gives a helpful paraphrase of this verse: “Therefore we should mortify emotion, be steadfast, unchangeable, not erratic and scatterbrained, easily discouraged, and should multiply our good works in the knowledge that the Lord will make them profitable.”

If our confident hope in the resurrection wavers, we are sure to abandon ourselves to the ways and standards of the world. If there are no eternal ramifications or consequences of what we do in this life, the motivation for self-less service and holy living is gone.

On the other hand, when our hope in the resurrection is clear and certain we will have great motivation to be abounding in the work of the Lord. Perisseuō (abounding) carries the idea of exceeding the requirements, of overflowing or overdoing. In Ephesians 1:7–8 the word is used of God’s lavishing on us “the riches of His grace.” Because God has so abundantly overdone Himself for us who deserve nothing from Him, we should determine to overdo ourselves (if that were possible) in service to Him, to whom we owe everything.

What a word Paul gives to the countless Christians who work and pray and give and suffer as little as they can! How can we be satisfied with the trivial, insignificant, short–lived things of the world? How can we “take it easy” when so many around us are dead spiritually and so many fellow believers are in need of edification, encouragement, and help of every sort? When can a Christian say, “I’ve served my time, I’ve done my part; let others do the work now”?

Reasonable rest is important and necessary. But if we err, Paul is saying, it should be on the side of doing more work for the Lord, not less. Leisure and relaxation are two great modern idols, to which many Christians seem quite willing to bow down. In proper proportion recreation and diversions can help restore our energy and increase our effectiveness. But they also can easily become ends in themselves, demanding more and more of our attention, concern, time, and energy. More than one believer has relaxed and hobbled himself completely out of the work of the Lord.

Some of God’s most faithful and fruitful saints have lived to old age and been active and productive in His service to the end. Many others, however, have seen their lives shortened for the very reason that they were abounding, overflowing and untiring, in service to Christ. Henry Martyn, the British missionary to India and Persia, determined “to burn out for God,” which he did before he was thirty–five. David Brainerd, one of the earliest missionaries to American Indians, died before he was thirty. We know very little of Epaphroditus, except that he was a “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” of Paul’s who “came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life” (Phil. 2:25, 30). He became so lost in godly service that he literally became sick unto death because of it.

Until the Lord returns there are souls to reach and ministries of every sort to be accomplished. Every Christian should work uncompromisingly as the Lord has gifted and leads. Our money, time, energy, talents, gifts, bodies, minds, and spirits should be invested in nothing that does not in some way contribute to the work of the Lord. Our praise and thanksgiving must be given hands and feet. James tells us, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

Our work for the Lord, if it is truly for Him and done in His power, cannot fail to accomplish what He wants accomplished. Every good work believers do in this life has eternal benefits that the Lord Himself guarantees. “Behold, I am coming quickly,” Jesus says, “and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). We have God’s own promise that our toil [labor to the point of exhaustion] is not in vain in the Lord.[2]


Concluding Appeal in Light of the Resurrection (15:58)

In view, then, of the certainty of the resurrection and the fact that faith in Christ is not in vain, the Apostle Paul exhorts his beloved brethren to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that their labor is not in vain in the Lord. The truth of resurrection changes everything. It provides hope and steadfastness, and enables us to go on in the face of overwhelming and difficult circumstances.[3]


58 Paul concludes this triumphant chapter with a moral message—one that all of us ought to apply to our lives daily. Earlier he had shown how lack of belief in the doctrine of the resurrection led to the Epicurean lifestyle of finding pleasure in eating and drinking and in immoral behavior (see comments at vv. 33–34). The converse is that belief in the resurrection leads to a “purpose-driven life” of service for the Lord. We know that our service for him will not be in vain because we are on the winning side in the battle of life. Though we all struggle at times, the battle against sin and Satan is worthwhile because in the end, they will be defeated.

Paul’s use of “in vain” (kenos, GK 3031) picks up his use of that adjective in v. 14, where he indicated that if Christ has not been raised, then Paul’s preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain. But because of the resurrection of Christ and the assurance of our future final victory over death, life even with all its difficulties is never in vain.

It is no wonder, then, that Paul encourages believers to “stand firm” and “let nothing move [them].” He began this section on the resurrection by reminding the Corinthians that they had stood firm in the apostolic doctrine preached to them about the death and resurrection of Christ; now he closes with an exhortation to remain firm in that knowledge and to let it shape their everyday lives. May it do so for us as well![4]


An Exhortation

15:58

  1. So then, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

The exhortation has little to do with the immediately preceding verses on the victory the believers share with Jesus Christ. It is an entreaty that arises from the entire chapter if not the whole epistle. The last instructions and final greetings aside, Paul has come to the end of his epistle and now admonishes his readers to do the work of the Lord.

  1. “So then, my dear brothers.” The first two words introduce a concluding statement. Paul frequently uses this expression in his epistles. For the last time in this letter he addresses the recipients in a personal manner by calling them “dear brothers [and sisters].” At two other places, Paul addresses the readers as “my dear children” (4:14) and “my dear friends” (10:14). Each time he speaks to the Corinthians as a father to his children. He remains the spiritual father of the Corinthians, who through the preaching of the gospel are his offspring (4:15). Paul is their pastor who loves them despite the numerous difficulties in the church.
  2. “Be steadfast, immovable.” Paul commends the believers for their steadfastness and exhorts them to continue their dedication to the Lord (compare Col. 1:23). Amid the onslaught of diverse teaching in a pagan culture, he urges them to remain firm in the Lord and not to waver. Paul tells the Corinthians to be immovable. This last word is a compound that signifies an inability to move from their spiritual moorings. Paul is not talking about retaining the status quo in the church. He wants the people to grow in their love for the Lord and to communicate this in their deeds.
  3. “Always abounding in the work of the Lord.” After telling his readers not to be moved in any way, Paul encourages them to excel in the Lord’s work. To express constancy and emphasis he adds the word always which, in the original, he places last in the clause for emphasis. What is the work of the Lord? The work entails preaching and teaching Christ’s gospel, applying the contents of Scripture to our lives, edifying one another, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (compare 16:10). It consists of an earnest desire to keep God’s commandments and to do so out of gratitude for our salvation provided through his Son. As his love extends to us without measure, so our selfless deeds are done for him without measure.
  4. “Knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” The faithful Corinthians have a sure knowledge that the deeds done out of love and thankfulness to God will not be forgotten (see Heb. 6:10). The word labor is often used by Paul in a missionary setting and means working with his own hands for his own support (4:12) “and for activity in the Christian community as a whole.” Such labor given freely in service to the Lord is never in vain because the Lord himself blesses his servants (Matt. 19:29).[5]

15:58 Concluding instructions

The consequence of all this discussion is the command to stand firm and not to move away from the rock of the bodily resurrection of God’s people. What they must not do now in that body, which is to be resurrected, is to be led away into sin (33–34a). Rather, they are always to be given fully to the work of the Lord, which in part means helping those who are ignorant of God (34b). This is the lifetime call to the ordinary Christian. That work will not be worthless and will mean that they will receive the Lord’s reward for the good done in the body at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who die in the Lord are pronounced blessed indeed, for they cease from their work in the Lord and their good works follow on behind them (Rev. 14:13). In contemporary Christianity there is a danger of investing the term ‘eternal life’ with the Greek pagan notion of the immortality of the soul, and of regarding the present moments of the Christian life as providing opportunities for personal advancement and aggrandizement.[6]


15:58 The Corinthians were to continue steadfast in the work of Christ, specifically because of the Resurrection. your labor is not in vain: All the work that we do for Christ will be rewarded (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).[7]


15:58. Paul’s doctrinal declarations led to practical directives and this chapter’s conclusion was no exception. The Corinthians were urged to stand firm in the apostles’ teaching (v. 2), unmoved by the denials of false teachers (cf. Eph. 4:14). This certainty, especially concerning the Resurrection, provided an impetus to faithful service (cf. 1 Cor. 3:8; Gal. 6:9) since labor in the resurrected Lord is not futile (kenos, “empty”; cf. 1 Cor. 15:10, 14, 17, 30–32).[8]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 446–448). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1811). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 405). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 587–588). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[6] Winter, B. (1994). 1 Corinthians. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1185). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[7] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1488). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[8] Lowery, D. K. (1985). 1 Corinthians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 546). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.