Y’know, I’ve had something on my mind lately: sometimes I’m wrong about stuff. My background’s in English, and I know just enough theology, philosophy, and history to be dangerous. In all these fields, time and time again I’ve thought one thing was true, only to read or hear the actual fact of the matter and find my perspective overturned. I’ve never liked Socrates’ adage “I only know that I know nothing,” in part because it violates the Law of Non-Contradiction, and if there’s anything I know, it’s that. But even then, some days I find myself doubting that A is not non-A, whether that’s because of the weakness of my own mind or the viability of the notion that something could really, truly be what it isn’t, which would of course undermine all possibility of rationality and logic. But all of that is a roundabout way of saying that as we open up Matthew 8 today, I’m going to talk about first-century Judaism and the Roman Empire, so watch out.
There’s a lot happening in any given chapter of Luke. Consider, for example, Luke 7, which just so happens to be the chapter for today: Jesus heals a centurion’s slave, restores a recently-deceased man to life, preaches about John the Baptist, and gets invited to a Pharisee’s house, where he tells a parable about two debtors. Which of these shall we look at in today’s post? We certainly aren’t going to look at all of them. I love you guys, but not that much.
There’s one last thing I want to talk about concerning the minor prophets, and that’s that they came to an end. The prophets both major and minor preached their messages roughly from the 9th to the 5th century BC, but with Malachi’s prophecy somewhere around 420 BC (scholars for various reasons find it difficult to pin a date on Malachi), they stopped. If you relied solely on the Bible for your history lessons, you wouldn’t know anything from the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi up until the birth of John the Baptist in Luke. As the Old Testament as we know it today drew to a close, Jews were living in Jerusalem again, and the temple had been rebuilt, but the spirit of prophecy simply stopped manifesting.
You may or may not have gone in with some familiarity as we’ve opened up the book of Zechariah. But you likely recognize Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! …Behold, your king is coming to you…humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Jesus Christ famously fulfilled that prophecy at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem prior to the Last Supper and crucifixion. Of course, it’s not too difficult to acquire a donkey and ride it into Jerusalem, at least compared to the hurdles involved in arranging to be born in Bethlehem or, say, to a virgin.
Between our recent excursions into Ezra and Nehemiah and our present entry into Haggai, the theme of the moment must be rebuilding projects. Haggai, a short book that is mostly narrative, opens with God calling his people to rebuild the temple. Despite their initial reticence, Haggai’s prophetic message moves them to begin work.
Nehemiah picks up where Ezra left off with the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. It primarily concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, and it contains a few instances of the word “thanks” near the end, so let’s take a look and see what we can learn about thankfulness.
Nahum 2 may be the closest you and I will ever get to experiencing a bronze-age siege.