Bible reading for weekend January 29--31
Jan 29 -- Esther 6 and Romans 1
Jan 30 -- Esther 7 and Romans 2
Jan 31 -- Esther 8 and Romans 3
THE PRIDE OF MAN. I'm not sure if this is the earliest version of, "Give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself," but the image fits. The gallows that Haman built were certainly big enough! The Bible teaches that evil plans and conspiracies will ultimately rebound against those who make them: "Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling" (Prov 26:27). At the root of this is pride: "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom" (Prov 11:2). Some years before this event, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God, and he confessed, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble" (Dan 4:37). Jesus said, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Matt 19:30). This is a big lesson from the book of Esther, how God humbles the proud, turning back their hatred upon their own heads, and so rescues the humble. And this can happen suddenly.
THE PRESERVATION OF ISRAEL. A second lesson from Esther is how God preserves his people. The Jews are spared from an empire-wide genocide. God chose the people of Israel not because of their greatness or their righteousness, but because of God's own righteous purpose, in faithfulness to the promises made to their fathers (Deut 7:6-8; 9:4-5). In fact we do not see God mentioned in the story of Esther, nor do the Jews speak of him, confess sin, or pray to the Lord. Their deliverance comes from God's covenant faithfulness, not their own. As we begin our reading in Romans this weekend we see that God's faithfulness to Israel is mentioned in the very first chapter, "...concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3), and the gospel comes "to the Jew first" (Rom 1:16).
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16)
BY FAITH. The proclamation of the gospel is designed to bring about an obedient faith (1:5). Paul says that the gospel IS -- not just contains news about, but IS -- the power of God for salvation (1:16). He cites Habakkuk 2:4, "the righteous shall live by faith" (1:17), which gives us an outline for the next chapters... who is righteous (chapters 1-3), what is faith (ch 4), and what does it mean to have life (ch 5-8). "From faith for [or, to] faith" (1:17) may mean that out of God's faithfulness comes a work that we are to have faith in. But I think more likely that "from faith to faith" means our righteousness before God comes from simple faith from beginning to end, excluding any works of our own merit. As The New Living Translation puts it: "This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life'" (Rom 1:17 NLT).
BUT FIRST, A CORRECT DIAGNOSIS. Living in the midst of the pandemic we are keenly aware of the importance of research, testing, and effective treatment. We want to know what we are up against. Any time that we visit our physician we don't want to hear, "it's nothing serious", if in fact we have a fatal condition. Romans is the Apostle Paul's explanation of the gospel (1:16), and he begins with a diagnosis of the human condition. The first three chapters are a kind of MRI of the human heart. There is a downward spiral that begins with ingratitude, unbelief, idolatry, and rebellion against God (ch 1). Before we can understand God's great work of salvation we must understand why we need so great a salvation! Charles Hodge wrote, "As the doctrine of redemption pervades the Scripture, so does the doctrine of the universal sinfulness of men" (The Way of Life, p. 57). But, what about good people? See my comments here on chapter two. And more on the righteousness that God provides in chapter three.
Image credit: statue of Lady Justice at the Castellania in Valleta, Malta, by Continentaleurope on Wikipedia. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.