What we are reading this week (beginning Wednesday, December 9, 2020):
• 1 Samuel 17-23
• Ezra 3-9
• Revelation 14-20
Notes on 1 Samuel
We open with one of the most famous stories in the entire Bible, David and Goliath. Since the challenge from the giant to the army of Israel was total surrender in a one-on-one with himself, it blows my mind that Saul would place the fate of the entire nation upon this young kid (17.9). They must have been far beyond all hope at that point.
Saul continues to deteriorate spiritually and mentally. He had allowed David to do the act of bravery that he himself would not do. Now, in chapter 18 he begins to envy David’s growing popularity in earnest (18.8).
The king tries to entice David to his death by asking him to kill a hundred Philistines in exchange for his daughter as a wife. David kills two hundred, just to make sure. And his daughter really loved David (18.28). And Saul was being tormented by an evil spirit (18.10). Things had become pretty grim for this wishy-washy man.
By chapter 19, Saul has lost all perspective on ruling a kingdom, and spent the rest of his days pursuing David, his most loyal and brave warrior. To add to the king’s misery, his son Jonathan becomes David’s best friend.
Jonathan is pretty clueless about his father’s intentions for David, but in chapter 20 he becomes fully aware of the danger.
David still has a clueless streak as well, not realizing how dangerous his very presence was to others. He goes to Nob and asks the priests for some food and for Goliath’s sword. This encounter will lead to a massive slaughter of the priests by Saul shortly.
But David does have enough sense to leave Israelite territory, and retreats to the Philistine town of Gath, where he fakes being insane.
David was a natural leader. Even living in a cave, he drew 400 warriors around himself (22.1-2). He had to evacuate his own father and family out of Israel, as well (22.3); the family that was supposed to be exempt from taxes! See 17.25.
At the end of the chapter, eighty-five priests at Nob were murdered at Saul’s command. This was so clearly unnecessary and evil, his own officers would not do it (22.17). Saul was so intensely frustrated, he struck at anything that triggered association with David, no matter how absurd or irrational.
In chapter 23, David saves an Israelite town from the Philistines, and as a reward Saul merely uses the information on his location to pursue him with “all his forces for battle” (23.8). But David was being protected by God (23.14), so the king’s efforts were futile.
Notes on Ezra
The foundation of the Temple is laid in chapter three. There were some there who were old enough to remember the original Temple before it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. They wept loudly while the others rejoiced greatly at the newly laid foundation. This would have been an awesome moment to experience (3.12-13).
Of course, as soon as construction is making serious progress, opposition arises. The decree to rebuild was originally made by Cyrus, the king of Persia, sensing that he was on a mission from God (1.2). But he had been replaced by Darius, who was then succeeded by his son Xerxes. To him, the opposition sent a letter telling the king Jerusalem had a long history of rebellion, and if he allowed the Temple and the city to be rebuilt, they would all quit paying taxes.
The king did some background checking, agreed with them, and put a halt to the construction. Everything stopped until Xerxes was succeeded by Darius II. The Jews sent a letter to him citing Cyrus’ express intent to see the Temple rebuilt (5.13). They urged the king to search for the decree that affirms this (5.17).
Darius searched for and found the decree. He not only reissued the building permit, but funded the project from his own royal treasury (6.8). The Temple was then completely rebuilt, and Passover was celebrated in grand style (6.19-22).
Ezra, our narrator and faithful priest, now goes to Jerusalem from Babylon with the blessing (and gold and silver) of the king (7.12-16). He gave Ezra free rein to worship the Lord as he saw fit.
In chapter eight, Ezra organizes a large group in Babylon to make the move to Jerusalem with him. They humbled themselves and fasted before beginning the journey (8.21). On their arrival, they sacrificed offerings to the Lord (8.35).
Ezra finds in chapter nine that the people of Israel, including priests and Levites, had been intermarrying with the peoples around them. Ezra was so distraught that he literally pulled his hair out (9.3). Drastic measures will be taken to fix this mess. We’ll read about it next week.
Notes on Revelation
The contrast between heaven and earth as the narrative jumps back and forth throughout the Book of Revelation is startling, to say the least. The judgments continue to pour forth, and get worse as they go, even when that doesn’t seem possible anymore.
The last of the plagues are prepared in chapter 15. But the songs of praise continue to pour forth, as well (15.3-4).
True global warming is engaged in 16.8. The plagues are beyond miserable, yet “they refused to repent and glorify him” (16.9).
In 16.21, we read of one-hundred-pound hailstones falling… each hailstone!
The woman on the beast that we read about in chapter 17 is quite frightening. As we read the chapter, we see that “she” really is a symbolic manifestation of the evil world system, and represents “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” What a contrast to the Bride of Christ:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)” (19.7-8).
Chapter 18 completes the picture of what little remains of commerce and entertainment imploding in Babylon, which represents the center of human activity.
In chapter 19, we return to the glorious state of affairs in heaven, with more praises coming forth (19.1-2, 5, 6-8). The final battle commences.
The Millennium, followed by judgments on Satan and the dead make up chapter 20. It’s almost over.