Monday, August 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Wisdom 15-16 and 1 Peter 5

Wisdom 15 – The justice and patience of God are focused on here. “If we sin, we still are yours, since we acknowledge your power, but knowing you acknowledge us as yours, we will not sin” (15:2).

Those who fashion works of clay or silver or gold forget that they too have been fashioned from earth, but they spend no time thinking of the “imminent death or on the shortness of life” (15:8). They misconceive “the One who shaped him, who breathed an active soul into him and inspired a living spirit” (15:11).

He returns to the Egyptians - they “have taken all the idols of the heathen for gods, which can use neither their eyes for seeing nor their nostrils for breathing the air nor their ears for hearing nor the fingers on their hands for handling; while their feet are no use for walking, since a human being made them, a creature of borrowed breath gave them shape” (15:15-16).  Such men do not understand that they themselves are “worthier than the things [they] worship” (15:17). Human beings at least have life.

Wisdom 16 – The comparison between the Egyptians and the Israelites continues in this chapter. The approach is seen as an example of what the Jews call “midrash” or commentary on the scriptures.

We have seen how God used water – the water turned to blood and later the waters that drowned the pharaoh and his men as they chased after the Israelites – to punish the Egyptians but used it to nourish the Jews as the crossed the desert. Similarly the Egyptians were cursed by animals – frogs, flies, locusts and serpents – while the Jews were fed with manna, the “food of angels” (16:20) and saved by things like the bronze serpent on Moses’ staff, so people bitten by the serpents could look at it and be saved.

This bronze serpent seems to me not much different from the “tutelary” deity decried in Wisdom 14, but the author here emphasizes that they were saved not really by the “token” or magic image but by God directly. It is the faithfulness of the Jews that saves them from the venomous bites while the idolatry of the Egyptians makes them vulnerable to the bites of locusts and flies.

Nature is an extension of God’s hand: “For creation, in obedience to you, its maker, exerts itself to punish the wicked and slackens for the benefit of those who trust in you” (16:24).

1 Peter 5 – To the elders of the churches he is writing to encourage them to “be shepherds of the flock of God that is entrusted to you: watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, because God wants it; not for sordid money, but because you are eager to do it. Never be a dictator over any group that is put in your charge, but be an example that the whole flock can follow” (5:2-4).

As for the flock, they should follow the elders’ advice and “wrap [themselves] in humility to be servants of each other . . . Bow down, then before the power of God now, and he will raise you up on the appointed day; unload all your worries on to him, since he is looking after you. Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things” (5:5-10).

Peter notes at the end that he is writing the epistle through Silvanus and refers to the church in Rome as “your sister in Babylon” (5:13). “Peace to you all who are in Christ” (5:14).

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