Reflections on May’s readings (1)

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read.

An unexpected thing happened when I finished reading Genesis a few months ago: I felt a pang of sadness on realising that I wouldn’t be hanging out with the patriarchs any more. Each time I complete one of the longer books in the Bible, I get that sad feeling. I may even cry a little for Moses when I finish the Pentateuch later this month…

In May, I completed Song of Songs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John, Numbers, 2 & 3 John and Jude in that order. Month’s end found me still in Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Isaiah and Revelation.

Song of Songs: My takeaway from reading this book is that interpreting it as an allegory really complicates matters.

Here’s an outline of Song of Solomon, which reveals its chiastic structure, common in Hebrew literature:

•1:1-8 Poetic fragments: falling in love
•1:9-2:7 Love poems (courtship overtones)
•2:8-5:1 Wedding poems
•5:2-7:13 Love poems (marriage overtones)
•8:1-14 Poetic fragments: falling in love

Hebrews: This book could be summed up as: “Jesus is better.” The word ‘better’ appears 12 times. Jesus is better than the angels and Moses; His rest is better than Joshua’s; His priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood; He offered a better sacrifice; His covenant is better… You get the picture.

Was the author experiencing senior moments when he wrote, “But there is a place where someone has testified…” (2:6) and “For somewhere he has spoken…” (4:4)? What a relief! Even inspired writers forget! At the end of the letter, he describes Hebrews as ‘only a short letter’ (13:22). That’s quite the understatement 🙂 In the same verse, he asks that his readers bear with his word of exhortation. Here are the exhortations given:

•2:1 Don’t drift away
•3:12 Don’t turn away
•6:4-6 Don’t fall away (don’t apostatise)
•7:39 Don’t shrink away
•10:25 Don’t stay away
•10:35 Don’t throw away your confidence/assurance
•13:9 Don’t be carried away by false teaching
•4:16, 10:22 Draw near
•10:23 Hold fast to faith and confidence
•5:11-14 Make progress in the Christian life
•3:12, 10:24 Consider each other
•7:28 Worship God acceptably
•13:13 Be willing to suffer for Christ

In addition to exhortations, the author also periodically inserts warnings of the type “If this, how much that?” (Known as a fortiori arguments). Examples: 2:1-4; 12:25; 5:11-14; 10:26-29.

And what to say about the fixation with Melchizedek? He is mentioned 8 times in Hebrews and twice (fleetingly) in the rest of the Bible (Gen 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4). Dr D.A. Carson points out that if you take out the two OT references to Melchizedek from their context, the rest of the passages flow quite well. In other words, Melchizedek just pops up and then disappears, leaving us wondering why God put him there. Here’s why he’s important: Jesus is like Melchizedek in that he is a priest forever (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:6) and greater than the priesthood of Aaron (Heb. 7);  Jesus, like Melchizedek, was “without beginning of days or end of life” (7:3).

James: When reading James, I was struck by the recurrence of the themes of trial and perseverance. They appear together in the first (1:2-4,12) and last (5:7-11) chapters, sort of like bookends to hold the rest of the content together. The book as whole tackles the issue of the outworking of true  faith in life; the practical characteristics of faith. You could outline it as follows:

•1:1-18 Genuine faith and trials
•1:19-5:6 Characteristics of faith. Faith is more than just mere listening. Faith is proved by works. Faith controls the tongue. Faith leads to leaning on wisdom from above (Prov 3:5-6). Faith leads away from love of worldliness and ill-gotten gain.
•5:7-20 Encouragement to persevere, by waiting for Christ’s return. Practical words on prayer.

Even though he sounds like a pretty stern guy, James repeatedly addresses his readers as “my brothers” (the word could be translated ‘brothers and sisters’). Not only is that a term of endearment, it also points to the fact of belonging to God’s family.

1 Peter: My impression of 1 Peter is that it has a lot to say about suffering well and silencing non-believers. A possible outline for the first 4 chapters:

•1:1-12 Hope. Hope that God establishes (v3); that He sustains (vv4-5); that He produces and that He designs (vv 10-12).
•1:13-2:3 Hope and holiness. Not to pursue holiness is to despise Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (vv18-21). Loving others cannot be separated from a pursuit of holiness, and vice versa (1:22-2:3)
•2:4-2:12 A people and a rock. The OT applied to the NT covenant community of God: see Exodus 19:4-6
•2:13-3:12 Submission to authority. All ethical stances (in the home, society, marriage, at work, etc) for the Christian are tied to Christ’s work at the cross.
•3:13-4:19 Suffering well. Do not withdraw for Christ is your example (3:13-22). Do not be sinful for Christ is your Saviour (4:1-6). Do not be half-hearted for Christ is your coming sovereign (4:7-11). Do not be afraid of persecution for Christ is your patron (4:12-19)

2 Peter: Here’s what I wrote on reading 2 Peter: Peter wants his readers to remember after he’s gone. What does he focus on? False teachers and the judgment to befall them (ch 2); the end of time and the judgment to come (3:3-13); how to live in light of this (3:11, 14). He has harsh words for the false teachers, which is fitting his mandate to take care of Christ’s sheep.

Read Part 2 and/ or Part 3.

Sources: Covenant Theological Seminary (Song of Songs), ESV Literary Study Bible (Song of Songs),  FBC Durham (Hebrews, James), Alistair Begg (James), D.A. Carson (Hebrews, 1 Peter)