Below are listed over 100 commentaries on Genesis that are free online, in various formats and platforms. All of them were published before 1920 but are preserved, mostly through large-scale repositories like Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Early English Books Online, and Google Books, in addition to Sefaria. I've numbered them in loose order based on my recommendation of them; I've commented on those that I've consulted. This list was a bit of an experiment; in the future, I will try to order these by language and author. This list is pretty extensive, but if you know Latin, German, or French, you can find even more over at PRDL.Continue reading
Author: Joseph Parker was a famed Congregationalist preacher of late nineteenth-century London. His People’s Bible is a monumental series of over 1000 sermons from the perspective of biblical (or narrative) theology.
Joseph Parker’s preaching style is especially suited to Old Testament wisdom, and had already published a volume on Job (Job’s Comforters: Scientific Sympathy, 1874) more than a decade before his magnum opus, The People’s Bible, was begun.
As usual, almost every sermon in this volume includes generalizations about the book as a whole, relating it to New Testament truth. However, unlike many books written about Job (e.g., Morgan’s The Answers of Jesus to Job), he doesn’t skip over the dialogues of Job’s friends. Parker goes chapter by chapter, following the dialogue in narrative chunks, but usually not verse by verse.
Job’s friends are a topic that Parker pays special attention to, as he did in his previous book on Job. In the course of his sermons, he points out two key errors that can be made about Job’s comforters:
- We may cite them as Scripture, without differentiating them from Job himself, or paying due notice to the narrative.
- We may pay them no notice because of the divine verdict rendered against their words (in Job 42:7).
Parker steers away from both, treating Job’s friends (and Elihu) as serious debaters and theologians, with mostly correct—but incomplete—view of God’s providence.
History is not a succession of accidents, but the outworking of a sublime philosophy, the end of which is the coronation of righteousness, the enthronement of purity and nobleness. Such comforters are sent to us as from the very presence of God.
Paul Anleitner’s Deep Talks podcast on Job treats Job’s friends in much the same way; they are correct in observing that, in general, the righteous prosper and the wicked perish (Prov. 11:10, 29:2, etc.); this, however, is simply not the whole picture.
The general doctrine is founded in truth; its fallacy lies is in its application to Job’s peculiar case.
I should add, Chesterton’s wonderful 1902 article on Robert Louis Stevenson rather turns this topic on its head.
The shortcomings of this book are not different from the shortcomings of The People’s Bible as a whole; namely, Parker is a “big picture” preacher and doesn’t often answer detail-oriented questions about the text. This book should not be read at a study desk. Rather, his sermons need to be approached in armchair with a large cup of tea.
“Good behaviour founded upon a philosophy of fear is only vice in a fit of dejection.”
“No man could see himself and live.”
“May we not have argued about providences when we ought to have prayed respecting them?”
“If we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is able to lay a wounded hand upon God, and a wounded hand upon man, and to bring God and man together in righteous and eternal reconciliation.”
“How if it should turn out at last that our very punishment has been meted to us in mercy? What if at the end it should be found that adversity was a veiled evangel sent from heaven to bring us home?”
On meaningless suffering:
“We must often suffer, and not know the reason why: we must often rise from our knees to fight a battle, when we intended to enjoy a long repose: things must slip out of our hands unaccountably, and loss must befall our estate after we have well tended all that belongs to it, after we have securely locked every gate, and done the utmost that lies within the range of human sagacity and strength to protect our property. These are the trials that we must accept. If everything were plain and straightforward, everything would be proportionately easy and proportionately worthless.”
“God, who has made so much out of nothing, means to make more out of so much: the very creation means the redemption and salvation and coronation of the thing that was created in the divine image and likeness. Creation does not end in itself: it is a pledge, a token, a sign—yea, a sure symbol, equal in moral value to an oath, that God’s meaning is progress unto the measure of perfection. This is how we discover the grand doctrine of the immortality of the soul, even in the Old Testament—even in the Book of Genesis and in the Book of Job. What was it that lay so heavily upon Adam and upon Job? It was the limitation of their existence; it was the possible thought that they could see finalities, that they could touch the mean boundary of their heart’s throb and vital palpitation. When men can take up the whole theatre of being and opportunity and destiny, and say, This is the shape of it, and this is the weight, this is the measure, this is the beginning, and this is the end, then do they weary of life, and they come to despise it with bitterness; but when they cannot do these things, but, contrariwise, when they begin to see that there is a Beyond, something farther on, voices other than human, mystic appearances and revelations, then they say, This life as we see it is not all; it is an alphabet which has to be shaped into a literature, and a literature which has to end in music. The conscious immortality of the soul, as that soul was fashioned in the purpose of God, has kept the race from despair.”
Author: John E. Anderson is a Lutheran Old Testament scholar. Jacob and the Divine Trickster is Anderson’s dissertation written at Baylor and published with the recommendation of Walter Brueggemann.
Genre: Academic theology, narrative theology.
Overview: Jacob and the Divine Trickster is a theological study of the Jacob cycle. Anderson is primarily concerned with theology proper and not with textual-critical issues. The introduction sets up a challenge for readers who try to iron out tensions in the biblical text. In particular, Anderson believes that God is unquestionably implicated in several deceptive acts in Genesis—although the heavy term ‘deception’ is somewhat lightened in his definition towards “withholding information.”
Anderson develops this idea of cunning as a divine attribute, boldly referring to Jehovah as a “trickster God.” I agree, however, with Diana Lipton’s review:
Even if I can come to terms with the idea that God tricks people, I cannot see tricksterism (this may be the wrong term but no better one comes to mind) as a divine attribute, as Anderson seems to.
The key to Anderson’s book is that he catalogues all the ways that the Lord worked for Jacob, in fulfillment of the ancestral promises (in Gen. 12 and 28). This overall optimistic assessment of Jacob will prove to have staying power, I believe, if we can accept the Eastern understanding of ethics given to us in Genesis.
Anderson follows the lead of Walter Brueggemann, Eric Seibert, and others in addressing ethical difficulties in the Old Testament head on. Whereas a fundamentalist take would ignore difficulties and systematic theologians cancel them out, Anderson chooses to lean into the difficulties he encounters in the text.
Although its main thesis is overstated in my opinion, the book is an important contribution, as it challenges 1) interpretations that assess Jacob’s deceptive behavior negatively; 2) interpretations that seek to distance God from Jacob’s behavior, when God is real and present in the Genesis text, ensuring the fulfillment of his promise.
A simple review like this doesn’t provide space for the many interesting points in the book. But I can pose some questions evoked while reading this book:
- If Jacob’s repeated deception of Esau was immoral, would God have allowed him to obtain divine blessing by those means? (Is God’s blessing really so mechanistic that you could obtain godly blessing in an ungodly way?!)
- Can we trust Jacob’s statement (in 27:20) that the Lord helped him to deceive his father? What if Isaac was in the wrong anyway?
- What about 31:5, 7, and 9, where Jacob says God is working on his behalf against Laban?
- Are Jacob’s deceptive acts ethically difficult for non-Western readers? Wouldn’t many Asians see him as merely cunning, a guy with street smarts, who knows how to be in the right place at the right time?
Anderson’s book brings up a major ethical problem: is Jacob really immoral, or is it our European ethical framework that cause us to place limitations on the text? Anderson doesn’t answer this question for contemporary readers, in my opinion. He does pretty convincingly argue, though, that the Bible itself does not make excuses for Jacob’s deceptive acts.
is a book about
in which God shows his
Lamentations is a cycle of five separate poems (comprising five chapters in most modern versions) about the fall of Jerusalem, 9th of Ab, 586BC.1 This important event is recorded in four places in the Old Testament. The Babylonian siege resulted in horrific human suffering as well as the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Jeremiah’s poetic account implies not only murder and starvation (4:9), but rape (5:11) and even cannibalism (2:20, 4:10).
The fuller title of the book is sometimes “The Lamentations of Jeremiah,” but in Hebrew its title is simply the interjection “how!” from the first verse: “How empty lies the city!” The poem’s conclusion is just as bleak as the beginning; however, the “weeping prophet” (as Jeremiah is sometimes called) does make some sense out of their suffering in the course of the poem, and points to his hope in God’s enduring faithfulness.
Communal Suffering, Communal Repentance
Suffering and grief in the Lamentations are communal. Throughout the first poem (ch. 1), Jerusalem is allegorized as a friendless widow, defiled and deceived. The prophet laments not just personally, but on behalf of the great capital, Jerusalem. His poems encompass men and women, old and young (2:21), king and princes (2:9), and prophets.
Repentance likewise must be communal. Jeremiah confesses and repents on the people’s behalf (1:18). Like Moses (33:1-17, 34:9) and Ezra (9:5-10:4) before him and Daniel after him (Dan. 9:1-19), Jeremiah repents vicariously on behalf of the people, standing in the gap as their representative before God in his prayer. By interceding before God for Israel, these prophets point to Christ who “lives to intercede” (Heb. 7:25; see Rom. 8:34, etc.).
God’s Righteous Judgment
Jeremiah is unapologetic about two things: First, God brought this about (2:17); second, we deserved it (3:37-38, 5:7). In the first poem, he sings: “The LORD has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (1:5, ESV). Again, he writes: “The LORD is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (1:18, ESV; compare Ezra 9:15, Neh. 9:33).
No matter how dark times get, an attitude of humility should always lead us to these two conclusions: God is still at work, and righteousness leads to an attitude of repentance.
Suffering: Did God Cause It?
First, God is always at work, even in the worst of times. “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (2:17, ESV). “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it” (3:37, ESV)? Everywhere in the poem, God’s agency is acknowledged, especially in passages like 1:12-15, 2:1-8, 3:1-17, 42-45, 56-61 and 4:11. In these verses, God is the agent of more than 80 verbs, a remarkable testimony to his activity in times of trouble.
The worst affliction of all is the closing of divine channels. See especially 3:1-8: God “shuts out” prayer (3:8; the prophets “find no vision” (2:9); “the Lord has become like an enemy” (2:5). Few Scriptures are as forthright
Suffering: Does Judah Deserve It?
Regardless of his personal righteousness, Jeremiah freely admits that Judah is suffering in guilt, not in innocence. God does not owe them any favors. Unlike Job, Jeremiah does not question whether the suffering is personally deserved or not. He cuts to the chase: This is judgment! We are guilty, and God is in the right. “Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins” (3:39, ESV; see also 3:42; Neh. 9:33, Mic. 7:9, 1 Pet. 2:18-24)?
Jeremiah does, however, petition God for justice where justice is lacking, especially in the fifth and final poem (3:64-66; 5:1-22). Admitting guilt before God and pleading for reversal of fortune are not mutually exclusive.
God’s Compassion—Our Hope
The core of Lamentations is found in its message of hope in the middle of the third poem:
“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. . . .
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.” (3:21-23, 31-33, ESV)
Jeremiah mentions three character traits of God: his steadfast love, his mercy, and his faithfulness. The character of God is his reason to have hope.
Summary: Four Applications for Times of Grief
Jeremiah’s book offers an important example for those crushed by grief. There are four ways that we can see Jeremiah finding a pathway out of grief:
1. The first solution is simply to express yourself in grief. Trauma often leads to avoidance behaviors, but Jeremiah counsels us to pour out our hearts:
“Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!” (2:19, ESV)
2. Next, repentance is always a good idea; even if you cannot recall any personal sin to confess before God, you can repent on behalf of your nation. Take an attitude of humility and lift your heart to God.
“Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the LORD!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven.” (3:40-41, ESV)
3. Third, remember God’s faithfulness. Jeremiah says “this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (3:21, ESV). We must remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness by calling it to mind, whether through song, through reading his Word or through other acts of devotion.
4. Fourth, ask for justice. (See 3:40-66, 5:1-22.) Even though they are guilty, Jeremiah does not hesitate to ask God to restore justice by coming to the aid of the penitent and restoring his covenant people. We should never wallow in injustice, but entreat God’s aid and the comfort of his mercy.
Besides the books recommended on Jeremiah, I recommend a compilation called Devotional Poets of the Seventeenth Century. It includes a paraphrase of Jeremiah’s Lamentations. Poetry and song can be a great comfort in times of grief.
1 However, some contest this date to be in 587BC.
is a book about
in which God is
What Is Worship?
Worship is not music, but a posture of the heart. Etymologically, worship means worthship or worthiness; worship, then, declares his worth and our surrender to his good will.
What we worship ends up defining us. One definition of worship is “the reflection of the worshipped on the worshipper.” Our lives are a reflection of whatever we value most highly, whether that be an idol, a lover, or the Most High God.
Psalms: The Anatomy of the Soul
John Calvin wrote, “I have been accustomed to call this book [the Psalms], The Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul. There is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”
While it is common to try to exclude the emotional life from our spirituality, the Bible makes it clear that the whole man is to be involved. The warning God gives us about emotions is not that we should avoid them; it is that emotion can make a useful servant, but a terrible master.
Ways of Categorizing Psalms
What follows is an attempt to delineate the most important categories of psalms, first by theme; by author; by historical context; and lastly, by Messianic context.
By Theme: Psalms’ Pageant of Experiences
While the Psalms have a traditional division into five books, it can be more useful in study to compare them based on the experiences which they convey. Some psalms are very closely connected or have shared material, like Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 (written as one psalm in many ancient versions). Other ways of grouping psalms, like the so-called “penitential psalms,” have been given that name and grouping for many centuries, although they are not adjacent to each other in the Psalter.
Hymns: 8, 100, 103, 104, 145-150
Thanksgiving: 32, 75, 116, 118, 136
Trust: 23, 27, 91, 121, 131
Penitential psalms: 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143
Laments: 13, 42-43, 80, 120, 126
The psalms are unique in that many of them contain notes about their authorship, usage in worship, and sometimes the author’s circumstances. While these epigrams are sometimes considered later additions to the text itself, they appear to be very ancient and contain important information.
In the whole book of Psalms, David is listed as the author of 73 psalms. New Testament cross-references would add two more to the list: Psalm 2 (in Acts 4:25) and Psalm 95 (in Hebrews 4:7). Below is the full listing of psalms that are identified by author, although the remaining 48 are anonymous:
David wrote (or assisted in writing) at least 75 psalms: 2-9, 11-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, 95, 101, 103, 108-110, 122, 124, 131, 133, and 138-145.
Asaph wrote 12 psalms: 50, and 73-83.
The sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms: 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88.
Solomon wrote two psalms: 72 and 127.
Heman wrote one psalm, with the sons of Korah: 88.
Ethan the Ezrahite wrote one psalm: 89.
Moses wrote one psalm: 90.
Our understanding of some psalms is greatly enhanced, though, by knowing not just who wrote them, but when. Psalm 51, the greatest psalm of repentance, was written “when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” (ESV) We can go deeper by studying these contexts, especially the life of David.
By Context: Psalms with Jewish Contexts
A few psalms relate to specific aspects of Jewish life, like:
Torah wisdom: 1, 119, and 133
The temple: 24
God’s covenant: 78, 89 and 132
(See also, below, the “Songs of Ascents.”)
Other psalms are unique in their subject matter or require more contextual considerations for modern readers to understand their meaning. Imprecatory psalms, for example, implore God to intervene between the singer and his enemy. (While these might be difficult for believers living in power and influence, they are easier to understand when we are suffering persecution.)
Imprecatory psalms: 35, 52, 58, 69, 109, 137, 140
A specific group of psalms, 120-134, are traditionally known as songs of ascents and related to Jewish pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem.
Songs of Ascents: 120-134
Many other psalms relate to royalty. As always, it is best to read these first in light of their ancient context, before applying any metaphorical meanings.
Royal psalms: 45, 93, 95-99, 110
Prophetic and Messianic Meanings
Prophetic passages often refer to Jerusalem’s king or David, and, by extension, Jesus. Jews do not only find prophecies in passages specifically marked as prophecy; they also found prophetic meanings in Psalms, and the Book of Ruth for example.
The Epistle to the Hebrews explains the Messianic meanings of Psalms 8, 45 and 110. Psalm 2 and Psalm 22 are also somewhat difficult to understand outside the story of the Messiah, so that is the primary lens through which Christians see them.
Psalm 8 is the Hymn of Creation, in which man is the apex of God’s Creation since he bears God’s image.
Psalm 22 is the Psalm of the Messiah’s Crucifixion.
Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 are the Psalms of the Messiah’s Coronation.
Psalm 45 is the Psalm of the Messiah’s Wedding Day.
The Importance of Poetry to the Spiritual Life
Poetry, in and of itself, has always had importance for the spiritual life. Nearly every book of the Bible includes some poetry, and some world religions rely heavily on poetic language. Poetry has been called “language distilled.”
Poetry always resists dogmatic or one-sided interpretations. The abundance of poetry in the Bible shows us that the Bible is more than a cerebral book. It exceeds the limits of our brains, and involves the whole spiritual person.
Understanding poetry can be difficult enough in English. Although believers have always expanded outward from the Psalms by interpreting some of them as prophecy, it is much more difficult to interpret them in narrow limits but plucking proof texts from them. Of all the Bible’s books, the Psalter resists this practice the most.
Parallelism is the primary source of “prosody” in Hebrew poetry; it also serves as a hedge for interpretation, since it almost never makes sense to introduce a radically new theological concept on only one side of a parallelism. (The Masoretic text included the parallel lines in two columns, so the parallels were clearly seen as you read the text.)
Recommendations for Further Study
For study of the Psalms, I recommend the following books:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a very good devotional book called Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible.
John Calvin’s preface to his Commentary on the Psalms is a helpful introduction.
Dennis Bratcher’s website has a very helpful way of classifying the psalms, although there is no perfect way of dividing them. His list includes all 150.
John Owen’s Exposition of Psalm 130 (also called The Forgiveness of Sins) draws heavily on the Book of Psalms, although it ostensibly is written on Psalm 130. Owen deals with subjects related to depression, guilt, and the need for a continuing experience of grace.
Notes on the Psalms by G. Campbell Morgan gives a straightforward summary of themes in each psalm one by one.
Herbert Lockyer, Walter Brueggemann, Alexander Maclaren and C. S. Lewis all have books on the Psalms that I have not read yet! Brueggemann, in fact, has several, although most of his works are for a scholarly audience.
I also highly recommend the reading of devotional poets such as John Donne, George Herbert, William Cowper; or hymnwriters such as Isaac Watts and F. W. Faber. A hymnbook that you like is a great place to start.
is a book about
in which God provides
The Book of Leviticus: God’s Holiness
Leviticus is named for its relation to the Levites, and most of its commands pertain to the priesthood, especially commands about atonement for sin, which is the subject of about half the book.
In Exodus, one of the most important phrases in the Old Testament is introduced: “I am the Lord.” In Leviticus, God says his nature is essentially holy (20:7-8, 21:8, etc.). In the ESV, the word “holy” is used 91 times in Book of Leviticus.
He is also the Lord who sanctifies or makes us holy (20:8; 21:8, 23; 22:9, 16; see also Ex. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12, 37:28, etc.). This is a key concept in Leviticus, repeated five times: “Be holy, for I am holy” (11:44-45, etc.). God’s holiness informs us about what it means for us to be holy, and God’s holiness is the reason that he provides atonement for us. This is the attribute of God most clearly on display in Leviticus, and nearly every passage in Leviticus can be seen through this lens.
Plain Teaching on Sin (ch. 1-7)
These commandments about sacrifice are filled with specific truth about sin and guilt. There is no need to seek any allegorical meaning in them, when they teach plain truths about sin and sacrifice:
1) We learn the difference between sins and trespasses (Ps. 19:12-13). There are sins that are obvious to us, but there are also sins that we commit unknowingly (4:2). 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our (known) sin, he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (which would include unknown sin).
2) We learn the difference between personal sin, public sin, and priestly sin (4:13, 22, 27). If I cheat my neighbor, that is my own sin. But Nehemiah acknowledged, for example, that the people had sinned corporately, and corporate repentance was required.
The sin of priests and leaders is also treated differently. Ministers and teachers of the Gospel carry more responsibility because of their consecration, and this even affects the way their families are treated.
3) We learn from Aaron’s four sons that there are sins of commission and omission. Just as Nadab and Abihu sinned by offering fire “which the Lord had not commanded” (10:1), Eleazar and Ithamar sinned by neglecting to eat the sacrifice as commanded priesthood(10:18).
Plain Teaching on Priesthood and Sacrifice (ch. 8-10, ch. 21-22)
The tabernacle is established in the Book of the Exodus, and the is established in this book. In Leviticus, we have plain teaching about the meaning of sacrifice—not only that God requires our best, or that he requires blood, but beyond that, we learn:
1) Sacrifice required confession (4:15, 5:5, 16:21). The purpose of placing hands on the animal was to confess guilt in its presence. Likewise, the sacrifice of Christ has no effect if we do not admit our guiltiness.
2) Sacrifice required consecration (ch. 8-10). Not everyone can make a sacrifice, but only a priest can make atonement under the Old Covenant (4:35, 5:16, etc.). But now the Lord requires consecration from all his children, and we are all priests in the new order (Heb. 7:11, 1 Pet. 2:5).
3) Sacrifice required cleanness. It is not undertaken flippantly (10:1), or in any place, or at any time (16:2). But under the New Covenant we learn that God seeks those who worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It is not just clean hands but “a pure heart” that the Lord desires (Ps. 24:4).
Holiness and Cleanliness (ch. 11-15)
All the rituals involving food, skin diseases, etc. may be seen as involving cleanliness, and may or may not involve the guilt of sin. The commandments about food (ch. 11) are practical and interesting. (Winkie Pratney says, if you break these commands, you won’t necessarily go to Hell, but you will feel like Hell.)
Before the New Covenant was established, the Lord frequently required healed lepers to abide by Leviticus 14 in presenting themselves to the priests.
Leviticus 13 and 14 are dedicated to the separation of those with contagious skin disorders from the crowd of the camp.
The idea that these diseases were transferred through physical contact, and not by some other mystical means, has suffered a lack of acceptance, even recently, even in the educated West. At the height of his career, Joseph Lister was criticized and laughed at in his early career for his ideas about cleanliness and antiseptics in hospitals; in his old age, Queen Victoria made him a baron and a royal counselor; now, he is known as the “Father of Modern Surgery.”
Day of Atonement (ch. 16)
The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is at the center of the Book of Leviticus, and it is central to the whole practice of making atonement. This is neither the same as the daily sacrifices, nor is it “business as usual.” We see this in 1) the rarity of the occasion, which was annual (v. 2, 29); 2) the entry of the Holy of Holies, which was not allowed at other times (v. 2); 3) the special release of the scapegoat, which is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible.
The meaning of the scapegoat is up for debate, but the custom is clear enough: In addition to the commands laid out in this passage—namely, confession over this goat—the high priest tied a scarlet thread to the goat, representing guilt, before sending him away. In later years, rather than merely releasing it, the man charged with the duty would push the goat off of a precipice, and wave a signal to people stationed nearby that the atonement ritual was complete. Regardless, it represents a distancing from sin (Ps. 103:12), God not counting our sins against us (Ps. 32:1-2, Rom. 4:7-8).
General Commands (ch. 17-20)
It is no coincidence that sex is mentioned so prominently (ch. 18) in a book about holiness and atonement; sexual immorality is the quickest path to deceive yourself and destroy your family, and must be taken seriously (Heb 13:4).
This section contains what Jesus called the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Thomas Fuller, a Puritan author, had a fascinating insight on this verse in connection with the Sermon on the Mount: “Many things pass to be in Scripture, when no such matter is to be found therein. ‘Ye have heard it said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.”’ (Mt. 5:43) But where is it said, ‘Thou shalt hate thine enemy’? Surely nowhere in God’s Word.”
Feasts, Sabbaths and the Year of Jubilee (ch. 23-25, 27)
Note especially how the Feasts of Passover and Booths have been fulfilled in Christ’s death, and Pentecost, respectively (Mt. 26:2, 1 Cor. 5:7, etc.). (It’s important to know that Pentecost is simply the Greek name for the Feast of Booths.)
The Year of Jubilee (ch. 25) ensures justice and provide balances to the economic system; most interestingly, debt is freely forgiven, while in our modern system it simply accumulates unchecked.
Covenant and Consequences (ch. 26)
In Leviticus 26, God outlines consequences if Israel should fail to keep her side of the Covenant. This chapter shows that for believers, God will progressively try any means to get their attention, so that they will return to him (v. 3, 14, 18, 21, 23, 27; see also Deut. 28). But God promises in spite of this that he will bless and help them “if they confess their iniquity” (v. 40), and he could never forget or break his end of the covenant (v. 43-44).
This important section of the Pentateuch is what is referenced by Jeremiah and Daniel when they say that the punishments of the covenant have fallen on Israel (Dan. 9:10-14, Lam. 2:17). The complaints of other prophets of the exile period also prove that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their day (Hag. 2:16-17).
Written in Blood by Robert E. Coleman is a readable, well-studied devotional on the meaning of Jesus’ blood.
Andrew Murray published two books of sermons on Jesus’ blood: The Power of the Blood of Jesus and The Blood of the Cross.
 Concerning Christ’s Temptations.
is a book about
in which God
The Messenger and His Audience
Haggai is unique in that his audience is primarily just two people: Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. Both of them participate in this revival in a personal way (1:12, 14), receive personal words from God, and special promises. (See Ezra 5:1-2, Hag. 2:21-23, Zech. 3:1-10, 4:9-10, etc.) The only verse specifically directed at the public is 1:13: “I am with you, says the Lord.”
Haggai’s message is intimately related to the Books of Zechariah and Ezra. (See Ezra 5:1.) Zechariah and Haggai’s prophecies dovetail in confirmation of each other, and the people prosper through their prophesying (Ezra 6:14).
Haggai’s Message: Realignment of Priorities
Haggai’s primary spiritual message was one of priorities, and its primary application was that is it is time to work. Five times God commands them to “consider” (1:4, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It is easier to live selfishly; righteousness requires that we turn off autopilot mode and examine our priorities.
When we experience spiritual revival, it leads to a realignment of priorities. The first way this seems to happen is in the area of work. Haggai’s hearers were invited to invest time. Building the Lord’s temple would require some sacrifice of the time that they spent on their own affairs.
The second result of revival is in our finances. Haggai’s hearers were challenged to contribute materially (1:8, 2:8). Our time and money go towards what we value. Whenever there is repentance, spiritual renewal translates into an active response in these two ways.
“‘Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the Lord.” (1:8) God commands the Israelites to build “that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified.” This twofold purpose reminds us of the Westminster Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We build because God says “I am with you” (1:13, 2:5).
When God ordered the building of the Tabernacle, the reason was “so that I may dwell among you.” But now God says he is already among them, and they needed to acknowledge and prepare for his presence.
When God asks us to commit to the work of ministry, it is never to receive justification or atone for guilt; it is always for his pleasure and because he is worthy of glory. Work is for fellowship.
The House of the Lord
The temple is not “a house for the Lord” but “the house of the Lord.” It is a holy place belonging to him that he might reveal himself to his people; it is not a place for a tribal god to live. They did not rebuild the temple so that God could dwell among them; they rebuilt the temple because God was dwelling among them. “Work . . . for I am with you” (2:4).
In the New Covenant, God’s preeminent dwelling place is his people. A church building is never called the house of God in the New Testament. As Solomon said, “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you!” (1 Kings 8:27, NKJV) But it is also written: “You [plural] are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). Building God’s house for us means prioritizing our time and money for spiritual ministry. (See also: Christ’s Body Is the Temple.)
“The heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (1:10, KJV). God hearkens back to his covenant promises in Deuteronomy 7:13 and Leviticus 26:4. Abundant crops are specifically promised for Israel if they obey the covenant; drought and lack are promised if they disobey.
The promise is not universal, and it is not the same as karma—it is a specific way that God proves himself to his covenant nation (Lev. 26:9). In Haggai, God is trying every economic expedient to get the attention of believers, because they should know better. However, he promises specifically that this will turn around from the date of the foundation of the temple (2:18-19, Lev. 26:40-42).
In the Old and New Testaments, God never commits himself to a law of always returning good for righteousness and evil for wickedness. In his great wisdom and faithfulness, he can allow suffering on the righteous (e.g. Job), or mercy for the wicked (e.g. Saul). He sends his sun and rain on the righteous and the wicked, because he is perfect (Matt. 5:45); and the wind and storms come to both, whether our foundation is built on the sand or the rock (Matt. 7:24-27).
The Latter Glory
Haggai says the latter glory will exceed the former glory (2:9). This is immediately about the temple but also relates to the Messianic kingdom to come. The “shaking of all nations” and the “desire of all nations” relate to the future period when Israel becomes the center of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom. (The “desire of nations” is often thought to mean Jesus, but from the context, it seems to refer to the wealth that will be brought to Jerusalem, as in Zechariah 14:14.)
Victory over the Gentiles is also one of the promises of this time period. (See 2:20-23)
Shares themes with: Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah.
The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament complains to God that men in his hometown are plotting to kill him. He has had a difficult ministry towards unwilling people. You would think God would say something like, “that’s okay, Jeremiah, just trust in my grace.” Instead God says, in effect, “suck it up. It’s gonna get harder.”
If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?
(God’s word to Jeremiah, Jer. 12:5)
At first, it does not sound encouraging. G. Campbell Morgan points out though, that Jeremiah had raced with men. God didn’t say he failed. He had done well in a ministry that was filled with conflict. He had already preached boldly in a temple to religious people who had missed the entire point of the temple. He had brought some brutal, yet God-sent words. The nation was in danger—not because of karma, but because God couldn’t allow himself to be misrepresented ad infinitum.
And it was going to get harder! Sometimes we expect God to set us up for success and affluence, but he sees all the chess pieces, and he knows what we can handle. He knows that he can ask us to face something that is more difficult. The logical inverse, though, is that God wouldn’t send Jeremiah to race horses when he hadn’t won against men. God knows what’s too hard for us, and the Bible says that he doesn’t ever send his children to a battle that they can’t fight with his help.
In connection with this, I have been asking, is it possible to race horses? The metaphor sounds fantastic, but there are at least two races that have pitted men against horses in long-distance running: one is a 22-mile race in Wales, and one is a 50-mile race in Arizona. In 2004, for the first time a man won the race in Wales. In Arizona, the horses have never lost, but the race is often close. In 2009, the race director said that the first man, Jamil Coury, clocked in just over seven hours for 50 miles of running, and could have beaten the first place horse if he hadn’t gotten off course.
So God’s question—how will you compete with horses? is not only relevant to long-distance runners. A man can’t compete with a horse over short distances. But it is possible for a human to beat a horse, if the human doesn’t quit. Maybe that was really God’s key to facing difficulty in ministry anyway.
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5)
“You have kept count of my tossings [or ‘wanderings’]; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8, ESV)
In the psalm quoted above, David recounts to God all that his enemies have marshaled against him. They have haunted his steps; injured his cause; plotted against him; oppressed him daily. But God is not unaware of David’s enemies. He keeps the books in heaven. His knowledge is infinite, eternal and all-encompassing, and there will be a day when God settles David’s account.
When we read of books and scribes in Scripture, we must keep in mind that literacy was a specialty, reserved for a privileged few, and still is in some parts of the world. Study was a luxury, and books were priceless. How much more priceless are they when we consider the books that God must keep.
Thou hast a book for my complaints,
A bottle for my tears.
Tears and Tossings
“You put my tears in your bottle.”
In most biblical contexts, a bottle would mean a skin, such as the wineskins Jesus refers to. In this verse, the psalmist is probably referring to a ceramic bottle used in ancient funeral rites. Ornate containers called lachrymatories were commonly added to graves all over the ancient world.
The symbolic act of putting tears in bottles is well-known to historians. Tear-bottles were added permanently to graves, perhaps both as a symbolic goodbye and an honor to the memory of the lost. Museums still hold plenty of examples of these from various centuries as well as regions. They were ceramic in New Testament times; glass was invented later on.
The fact that God puts our tears in his bottle suggests that God shares in our grief with us. The Creator alone knows the innermost self, in its sin, its suffering, and its solace.
“She broke an alabaster jar.”
Bottles were also used in funeral rituals to pour ointment on a body for burial in several ancient cultures. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus, she truly was proclaiming his death beforehand, preparing him for burial. (Mark 14:8) She understood what the disciples were blind to: Jesus had to face a shameful death. (John 12:7)
If we take Matthew’s estimation, the value of the alabaster jar was about a year’s wages. Alabaster was mined in Egypt and carved into exquisite containers; the rare spice inside, nard, grows at elevations above 12,000 feet, and is only found in the Himalayan Mountains. Why then did Mary have this priceless jar? Was it like a life insurance policy, saved for the day of death? Is it possible that she had been saving it for her deceased brother’s grave? In the light of Lazarus’ resurrection, did she surrender to Jesus the safekeeping that would follow her own death? He who holds the keys knows.
There is no blessing in being comfortable, but “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus himself wept at the grave of Lazarus. He wept not only because of Lazarus and his family, but because death is an enemy, and a result of the curse that our sin has brought to us.
“The books were opened.”
Daniel says in his end-times vision that court was convened, and “the books were opened.” (Dan. 7:10) We think first of the Book of Life, and those who are blotted out. God calls it in some places “my book.” (Rev.) The most important record that God keeps is those who receive his salvation.
There are other books in heaven though. Both Daniel and John mention that God has books. Malachi tells us that one of them includes the records of our fellowship, our faithful prayers, and the results they wrought in lives changed:
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” (Malachi 3:16, ESV)
There is a crumb of comfort here for ministers with few visible successes. We struggle to reconcile our experience with the thrilling accounts of missionary biography. We could read of the apostolic triumphs in Uganda, and how Bishop Hannington perished on the forbidden road, and yet a church rose in his wake. We could read about the Palm Beach Five in the jungles of Ecuador, facing death for Christ, but giving life to a marginalized tribe. These sacrifices and successes are what fill our books. These are the ingredients of bestsellers.
But heaven has a different best-seller list. The prophet tells us that God writes it down when two believers sit and talk of him. If Malachi’s words are to be taken seriously, God keeps each of our biographies in heaven, and a page-turner to him is when his people take heed, and fear him, and talk about how they may follow on to know him
What God Values
“The Lord paid attention.”
Books and bottles are both vessels of preservation. They tell us what is precious. Precious tears are preserved in bottles; precious thoughts are preserved in books.
God values our thought life. God noticed those that feared him, and thought upon his name. We could spend our whole lifetime in the library, scouring a thousand volumes on theology, history, religion, and ritual. But one honest moment thinking about his name, dwelling on who he really is, drinking in his character from his revealed Word, would outweigh a whole lifetime of any other study.
God values our fellowship. They “spake often one to another.” Speaking to one another about spiritual topics should not be rare or specialized. One preacher said, “We are not called upon to talk theology, but we are called upon to talk gratitude.” We need to talk to God and of God long and often.
God values our mourning. We are not the ones who treasure up our tears; God puts them in his own bottle. Our suffering is not taken lightly by God, even when he leads his children into it. One prophet said, “In all their suffering he also suffered”; and another, “He does not willingly afflict the sons of men.” He treasures the pain that we have been through, not for its own sake, but because of the eternal weight of glory that it’s working in us. Shouldn’t we?
Never a sigh of passion or of pity,
Never a wail for weakness or for wrong,
Has not its archive in the angels’ city,
Finds not its echo in the endless song.
There are a few cryptic statements about feet in the Old Testament, which, taken together, have something profound to say about the work of Jesus as Redeemer. The first is one of Job’s prophetic glimmers of hope that shone out of his trial:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Job 19:25, ESV
There is no mistaking that he is referring to God as his Kinsman-redeemer and Deliverer. Since Job was likely contemporary with Abraham, the Torah’s prescriptions for kinsman-redeemers in Leviticus 25 probably did not yet exist—not to mention, Job isn’t even Jewish (Job 1:1). We could say that Job meant ‘redeemer’ in the broad sense (deliverer, liberator) in which it doesn’t involve land or money (see Isaiah 52:3, for example). However, Job’s parallel statement, (that his Redeemer will stand upon the earth) connects to the Semitic tradition of land redemption, because the feet appear to represent the right of the redeemer to his land.
Identified by Footprint
In December 2013, National Geographic published the first chronicle in a series on Paul Salopek, who is on a seven-year journey from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego on foot. His purpose is to follow the supposed track of human migration, from Yemen to Kamchatka, then from Alaska to Chile. (This will require two boats—one across the Gulf of Aden and one across the Bering Strait—due to past tectonic shifts.) If he succeeds in his journey, he will have walked 21,000 miles.
Paul writes about the footwear they wear in Ethiopia: millions of men, women, and children wear identical rubber sandals, cheaply produced, and usually lime green in the Afar region he is traveling.
Despite the universality of the sandal, Paul’s Ethiopian assistant stoops down in the dust and examines the various tracks zig-zagging the desert. He then affirms confidently—and correctly—that their friend had passed through and would be waiting for them later. This kind of desert tracking, which can differentiate between the gaits of people who wear identical shoes, is lost to Westerners.
The Feet of Boaz
There may actually be a distant cultural link between the Cushitic Afar tribe and the Jews of Ruth’s day: If modern Afar can identify their friend’s feet in the dust, then this may explain why sandals were exchanged during a transaction of land in the Book of Ruth.
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel.
Ruth 4:7, ESV
In his Handbook on Bible Manners on Customs, James Freeman further explains this strange custom:
“It probably originated from the fact the right to tread the soil belonged to only to the owner of it, and hence the transfer of the sandal was a very appropriate representation of the transfer of property.”
There was no harm in trading sandals if they were generic, as they are in the Afar Triangle. The shoe of the former owner, combined with the gait of the buyer, creates a new footprint that would be recognized as the new land-owner. So giving a shoe to Boaz, the redeemer, meant that he could not be mistaken for an intruder: he had the house-master’s shoeprint.
John the Baptist, who was technically Jesus’ cousin, said that he was not worthy to loose Jesus’ sandal. In the vein of the familial redeemer, John could have meant that he would never be worthy to inherit any of Jesus’ family or land rights.
Stand upon the Dust
Job’s statement about his heavenly Redeemer, literally translated, says “at the last, he will stand upon the dust.” Jesus’ footprint will claim the earth: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14:4, ESV). Not only that, but in the Jewish understanding of Redeemer, Jesus will stand on the dust as native, lord, and rightful owner—not a trespasser. He will have fully reclaimed his right to the earth.
May Jesus have the same reception when he enters our hearts, lives, and homes. May he set his footprint there as both Friend and Master.
Come then, and added to thy many crowns
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! it was thine
By ancient covenant ere Nature’s birth,
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim thee king; and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love… .
Come then, and added to thy many crown
Receive yet one, as radiant as the rest,
Due to thy last and most effectual work,
Thy word fulfilled, the conquest of a world.