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In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 21-23, Proverbs 10

Isaiah delivers an oracle against Babylon, Tyre, and Sidon, but let me note one section of Isaiah’s oracle against Jerusalem. In Isaiah 22:8-14 we see how horizontally focused the people of God had become.

During the days of Hezekiah, when foreigners invaded, the people of God evacuated homes, diverted reservoirs, and sought protection from the armory of Israel. Still they failed to acknowledge God, who had given them strength and provision. Rather, they turned to partying and revelry, saying foolish things like “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Years later, Paul the apostle repeats this line to describe a state of misery and hopelessness that should never characterize those who know the Lord’s power (1 Corinthians 15:32). This is precisely the problem; God’s people had ceased to live as God’s people, forgetting His greatness and ignoring HIs laws. Thus, they have lost hope, and they now face a greater judgement.

The truth is, however, that this judgement is better for the people as a whole than being allowed to continue in such faithlessness. It is better for them to suffer exile and learn to hope in God again than to have their own nation while they forget their God and maker. In our difficult days as the church in the United States, it is worth asking if our hard days are not better seen as an opportunity to return to bona fide confidence in God just as much as time to grieve what seemed like better days in our past.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 18-20, Proverbs 9

God defeated Egypt during the days of Moses, and He promises future judgement through foreign oppressors. These warnings are similar to the warnings from other oracles by Isaiah. What strikes me is the hopeful imagery of Assyria, Egypt, and Israel united in worship of the true God (Isaiah 19:16-25). This will not come until after Egypt faces hardship due their trust in false gods (see Isaiah 20). God’s beautiful promise offers good news to Egypt; the very nation that represented oppression to Israel for hundreds of years will be the recipients of God’s great peace and reconciliation.

At this time of year, the radio plays songs about how the beginning of peace is to rid ourselves of the notion of God (consider John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas”). The Biblical writers are unblushing in their insistence that the only one who can bring such peace is YHWH, the “Lord of Hosts”. Additionally, we now know that the one who ensures the “Egyptians will know the Lord” is the same one who brings peace to the earth (Luke 2:14). God’s peace has come to the nations. May we extend that peace to others this Advent season.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 14:28-17:14, Proverbs 8

Though the oracles about Moab and Damascus demonstrate God’s compassion even on those who receive wrathful judgment, I want to focus on the oracle against Philistia. This oracle occurs when Ahaz dies (710 B.C.), after the Assyrian invasion. Philistia mock their former rivals, for Philistia were Israel’s great enemies during the time of Joshua, Judges, and the reign of David. Israel defeated Philistia during David’s reign, so when Isaiah warns against rejoicing over the rod that broke you, he is speaking about Philistia rejoicing over Israel’s recent defeat at the hands of Assyria.

Isaiah warns Philistia: “for from the serpent's root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent” (Isaiah 14:29). This imagery conveys that Assyria will give birth to a greater foe to Philistia than Israel. God has given Israel over to Assyria, but Isaiah communicates that Philistia should be careful not to delight in the evils faced by another, for Philistia will face similar evils themselves. On the flip side, Isaiah declares that God will continue to care for the afflicted whom Philistia mock through God’s chosen city, Zion (Isaiah 14:32). God will also vindicate His own people, unworthy as they might be of such kindness.

What does this teach us today? Simply, we ought be careful to render ultimate verdicts about God’s favor or delight based on the temporary circumstances in our lives. Our suffering can be vindicated, and our times of peace can give way to times of misery. Ultimately what really matters is God’s favor upon us, and as God’s children united to Him through Jesus, our vindication is ultimate, and our hardships are temporary.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 13:1-14:27, Proverbs 7

Isaiah speaks with authority about Babylon’s fate at the hands of the Medes (Isaiah 13:17-20). If you recall, Isaiah began his book speaking about events that transpire in 740 B.C. Some modern scholars have argued that Isaiah could not have written all of this book because the destruction of the Babylonians foretold in today’s reading happened two centuries later, around 539 B.C. This of course assumes that Isaiah did not actually prophesy events based on the revelation of an all-knowing God. In other words, to those who believe that miracles such as accurate prophecies about the future cannot happen, Isaiah couldn’t have actually written these details about Babylon’s demise.

As believers, part of embracing the trustworthiness of scripture means we embrace the trustworthiness of the authors of the particular books. Isaiah claimed to write the entire book, and the New Testament authors treat Isaiah as the author as well. This is important to remember.

 

One last note: the word “Lucifer” is used to describe Babylon in a way that many have interpreted to also reflect Satan’s fall from heaven. A straightforward reading of this passage could simply reflect Babylon’s pride and destruction. However, it would be very much in line with the rest of scripture for Babylon to also refer to the reign of Satan.
Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 11-12, Proverbs 6:20-6:35

Isaiah continues to prophesy the coming messiah in terms that gladden the hearts of those who hope God will put an end to their misery. This messiah will comfort the meek and the afflicted, while judging the evildoer.

God’s messiah will also draw the nations that have formerly rejected God and His ways into obedient relationship. Consider the constancy of God’s global mission from the days of Abraham, when God called his servant to be a blessing to the nations. God doesn’t change, nor does He change His purposes or mission. Thus, it is fitting that God’s messiah will not only bring peace for Israel, but also brings redemption for the Assyrians and Egyptians; for black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. To Isaiah, hoping in the messiah meant delighting in God’s redemption and love for all peoples, irrespective of the boundaries of geography or nationality. To be lukewarm about God’s salvation and embrace of all peoples is to reject God’s salvific thrust.

Advent isn’t a season where we simply rejoice in God’s personal salvation for us. Rather it is a time to renew our gladness in the grace that spans oceans and opposition. At Advent we ought to take time to rejoice in a God whose love is genuinely wider, greater in breadth than we realize in our times of superficial tolerance and token multi-culturalism. To celebrate Advent appropriately, we must embrace difference, for this is what it means to embrace God’s redemption and His messiah’s work.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 9-10 Proverbs 5:1-6:19

Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and is the name of the four-week season leading up to Christmas when the church focuses on the benefits of the Incarnation and looks forward to Jesus’ return. Our readings this week in Isaiah fit this season very well. As Isaiah prophesies much doom and gloom, we find occasional interruptions of hope. While Isaiah tells us of increasing destruction for Israel, we also read about a child to be born who will be called “Wonderful Counselor” and upon whose shoulders the government will rest. Israel is promised that this child will oversee unending peace that attends the reign of King David’s throne.

Isaiah is looking forward to the messiah, for much trouble will precede the messiah. Even now, some of the promises for the messiah’s reign occur after Jesus’ return. The day where, “every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” still awaits. Oh, we wait with joy for that day! My encouragement is for us to spend a moment today imagining the new world our King will bring when he returns. Such is a fitting a way to respond to this reading during the Advent season.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 7-8, Proverbs 4

The New Testament quotes Isaiah more than any other Old Testament prophet. Jesus applies Isaiah’s prophecies to Himself (e.g. 4:17-19), and Jesus’s Jewish disciples learned to share how Jesus accomplished all Isaiah foretold.

One verse the apostle Peter applies to Jesus is found in Isaiah 8:14 (see 1 Peter 2:8). In Isaiah God is properly the object of fearful reverence, worthy of obedience. Those who make God their Lord will find YHWH to be a sanctuary; those who oppose God will find Him to cause trouble and failure. Jesus is like God in this regard. Jesus is both the one in whom the faithful find their rest and in whom the wicked find their most decisive judgment. For all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved (Romans 10:13), but all who make themselves enemies of Jesus meet destruction (Philippians 3:19). We shouldn’t overlook the fact that Isaiah is speaking of God, the unique creator of all things, while years later Peter, understanding Isaiah’s meaning, intentionally equates Jesus with the stone of stumbling in Isaiah 8. Early Jewish readers of 1 Peter certainly would have grasped this and other not-so-subtle suggestions through which the apostles claimed Jesus is messiah and God.

Whatever we think about the boy born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, we cannot think the early apostles taught that Jesus was anything but the eternal, divine author of all things. May we embrace this claim and find Jesus as our eternal resting place.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 6, Proverbs 3

Isaiah 6 paints a beautiful picture of God’s majesty. After King Uzziah died in 740 B.C., about 18 years before the Assyrians would conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, Isaiah saw the true King magnificently surrounded by angels. Isaiah is stunned at God’s Holiness and his own sinfulness. In response Isaiah confesses his own sins and the sins of the people. Isaiah receives the comfort of atonement and responds to God’s invitation for someone to go as His representative to the people. When Isaiah accepts the invitation, God gives a message of judgement to proclaim to Israel, which I would paraphrase: keep ignoring your senses.

How have they ignored their senses? They have ignored the warnings of prophets, their moral declension, and the ways their internal strife has weakened them as a nation. Isaiah wants to know, then, how long he will have to carry such an antagonistic message. God informs Isaiah his task will be long, and much sorrow will accompany his work. Cities will be destroyed, houses vacated, and God’s people exiled until a remnant set aside to continue God’s purposes will be all that remain.

Isaiah is tasked with delivering terrible news to the people he loves. It will be Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory at the beginning of this chapter that sustains Him in this labor. Let me ask, then, “Do you have clarity about the greatness of God’s glory?” Such clarity and wonder at God will sustain us in hard times and in any hard work God gives us.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 4:2-5:30, Proverbs 2

Isaiah begins chapter 5 with a song about God as the “beloved” who owns a vineyard. This vineyard’s fruitlessness represents the waywardness of Israel. When a vineyard produced little fruit in Isaiah’s day, there was little one could do but tear down the vineyard and use the land differently.

In the same way, God intends to bring judgement to Israel for rejecting God’s great grace. God promises to judge those “who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Isaiah lists the characteristics of God’s chosen people which bring their judgement, including acquitting the guilty for a bribe (Isaiah 5:23) and rejecting the laws of the Lord (Isaiah 5:24). Israel has proven fruitless and even to have produced bad fruit for God, the owner of the vineyard.

This picture of God’s people being part of a vineyard extends into the New Testament also (John 15). Everywhere this imagery appears in the Bible, God is teaching us our need to depend upon the Lord to fulfill our created purposes. May we start out today with a desire to bear good fruit, thus leading us to renewed dependence on our God and King.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 2:6-4:1, Proverbs 1:8-1:33

God is going to judge Judah and Jerusalem. The social problems of this judgement are spelled out in Isaiah 3. One particular aspect of this judgment is worth considering. God promises, “I will make mere youths their officials, children will rule over them” (Isaiah 3:1). The Bible makes it abundantly clear that youth often have greater moral integrity than their forebears. So why is it a problem for young people to lead if they are better suited?

Ideally, a society would be full of virtuous people, young and old. In such idyllic times, it is always better to have those with wisdom gained through experience to guide, train, and prepare the next generation to lead. God isn’t downplaying the gifts or skills of the young by promising this judgement. Rather, God is warning that Judah will have no effective leaders from older generations, for they will either have been defeated or unfit for leadership. This is bad for a nation, and it is bad for the youth that need guidance.

Switching our focus to the church, I argue we should celebrate the gifts of youth, but we need older, God-fearing people to be involved in supporting and leading the next generation. If such leadership were to disappear or be negligent, there will be negative effects on the generations to follow. May we be a people who affirm the gifts of the youth, but have the safety net of wise counselors in our midst.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Isaiah 1:1-2:5, Proverbs 1:1-7

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, informs the people of Judah that their sacrifices and offerings are abominable (Isaiah 1:10-15). This is difficult to understand, knowing the importance God placed in Leviticus on the sacrificial systems, calendar, and liturgies. Why does God make strong statements against obeying the Lord’s laws?

To gain insight, see that God prefers that His people, “Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). God’s people became accustomed to going through the motions of the sacrifices to atone for sins without actual concern for their sins or for the God they sin against. Besides this, they are obviously mistreating one another. God didn’t give the sacrificial system to Israel so that they would go on sinning, but rather that they might know God is Holy and enjoy access to God’s great grace.

Christians today can make the same mistake. Years later, the apostle Paul warns in Romans 6 against sinning in order that God’s grace might abound. The grace of God compels us not to continue to live in sin, but rather consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to righteousness (see Romans 6:1-14). Before Jesus, God delighted in Israel’s sacrifices made with pure and obedient hearts. But when those religious rites acted as subterfuge to gloss over sin, then God took no pleasure in them.

In the same way God takes no pleasure in our looking at Jesus’ finished work simply as a “get into heaven free card” while we neglect God’s call to love. Such actions miss the point of Jesus’ grace just like Israel missed the entire point of the sacrificial system—to enjoy sweet, obedient, communion with God.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Song of Solomon 6:4-8:14, Psalm 148

The woman and her beloved continue to speak in evocative images about their love for one another. Two sections of our reading stand out as in need of explanation.

First, the chorus of friends briefly speak about their sisters whose “breasts are not yet grown” (Song of Songs 8:8-9). The chorus is responding to the oft-repeated admonition from earlier not to awaken love before it desires (see 8:4). This response conveys that the daughters of Jerusalem understand the importance of chastity before marriage by promising to honor this sister with silver if she is virtuous when she is older (like a wall that cannot be entered) or to protect her (with cedars) if she proves unchaste (like a door).

The second section immediately follows (Song of Songs 8:10-12). I believe this brief discussion surrounding the difference between Solomon’s vineyards and the woman’s vineyard informs the main point of Song of Songs. As this woman compares her vineyard to Solomon’s, she is comparing her monogamous matrimony to Solomon’s polygamy. Vineyards and wine have frequently symbolized the body and sex in this book. This woman suggests that Solomon cannot actually care for all of his 1,000 vineyards (see 1 Kings 11:1-4 for Solomon’s wives and concubines). Yet this woman can tend her own vineyard (body) and chooses to give herself to her beloved for his delight, whereas Solomon keeps his vineyards for selfish gain.

At this point, I tip my hat to my seminary professor Dennis Magary from Trinity, though any failure to summarize his main arguments is my fault. My recollection is he argued that Song of Solomon could be better titled “Song against Solomon”. The entire book has been devoted to the dreamy delight a Shulammite woman and her beloved shepherd have for each other. Solomon is mentioned in this woman’s dreams from chapter 3-6 as revered by many, standing as a figure who reflects her desires for the shepherd to be similarly respected. While awake, the only mention of Solomon is negative, where she contrasts his approach to marital love with her own. One is the wise approach, which even Solomon elsewhere advocates (Proverbs 5:18-23), the approach of monogamous matrimony. The other is the folly of polygamy, which Solomon actually practices. Thus, the entire book has been about the wonders of romance for husband and wife and how different that is from the selfish polygamy engaged in by Solomon.

I know that interpreting this book in this way is historically unique, but it is the interpretation that has made the most sense to me. If you have questions about this, reach out to me!

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3, Psalm 147

Today ends the Shulammite woman’s dream. How do we know she is still dreaming? Well, she tells us again that she “slept” but that her “heart was awake” (Song of Songs 5:2). In this dream, she again imagines having her beloved approach her at home, only to find him missing when trying to let him in. This time, as she goes seeking her beloved, she is beaten during the search (Song of Songs 5:7). After this strange event, which reflects her inner fears of losing the love or relationship with her beloved, she tells the daughters of Jerusalem to help her declare her passion for this man. As a chorus, they ask about why this guy is so great. To this she ends her dream describing why he is so dreamy.

Sorry, I had to say that.

Anyway, again we see how much romantic love can fill one’s minds with both thoughts or emotions that are hopeful or irrational, excited or fearful. Love is complicated, and this woman’s dream reveals a great deal about her hopes and fears. I find her thoughts and feelings relatable. But what does this have to do with the message of scripture about God and the world’s salvation?

Song of Solomon helps us consider the way God wired us with sexual drives that reflect to us something of God’s delight in us and vice versa. There is still a lesson that this book has been driving at, that I believe will become clearer in tomorrow’s reading.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Song of Solomon 4:1-5:1, Psalm 146

As the woman continues to dream, her dreams are about the beloved delighting in her and her body. Simple allegorical interpretations of the meaning of this passage break down. This woman is specific in describing her dream of being the apple of her beloved’s eye.

We are left to wonder about the purpose of such sexual imagery in the Bible. We can say the writers of Song of Songs intend to portray the intensity and excitement surrounding romance and marital sex. I would add that this particular chapter has some important insights for men in general, but husbands particularly. This dream reflects a normal feminine desire to be cherished completely by her beloved. Husbands need to remember that it is important, in every single way, to make their wives feel valued and cherished. Men and women are different, and most women feel loved most when their spouse is exuberant about them.

This chapter conveys some of the importance of the whole book for modern audiences. Song of Solomon is a helpful teacher for men and women in how to relate romantically and maritally. Thus, the wise listen to what it teaches.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Song of Solomon 2:8-3:11, Psalm 145

The metaphors continue in Song of Songs, picturing the love of the betrothed couple. There is a change, however, as the ideas of “foxes” in a vineyard and the beloved “leaping over hills” indicate that there are obstacles to their enjoyment of love. These hindrances might be family and friends that disprove of the marriage, or maybe distance. We cannot be certain of the reasons for their trouble.

It does seem like this trouble gives the woman a nightmare, which lasts until Song of Solomon 6:3. We know she is in a dream because we are told she is trying to find her beloved in “bed at night” (Songs 3:1). At the beginning of the dream, she imagines being unable to find her beloved; when she finally does, she absolutely must have him forever in marriage (Songs 3:4-5).

At this point, her dream makes a seemingly strange jump as she imagines Solomon the great king surrounded by his subjects. This dream revealed through song conveys her desire that others would view her and her husband like she does--majestic like Solomon. To make sense of what I am saying, understand that Solomon represents her beloved in this dream, not because she desires Solomon, but rather because her dream reveals that she believes she is as good as a queen. This is how much she delights in her beloved.

Romantic love makes one dream constantly of the one they love, while seeing even themselves differently because of who loves them. For this reason, married couples or even engaged couples have found Song of Songs helpful in expressing their passions. But applying Song of Solomon also requires applying its most direct applications to readers, that we not “stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 3:5). Wisdom demands that we guard our hearts and emotions in our relations with the opposite sex until we enjoy the greatest freedom to express our passion in matrimony.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7, Psalm 144

Interpreters struggle to piece together the parts of Ecclesiastes into one coherent whole. For most of church history, Song of Solomon has proven even more difficult to interpret. Some unifying interpretative frameworks for this book seek historical support, with an allegorical interpretation portraying love between Israel and God. Other methods tout academic support; the anthology interpretation colors this book as a collection of love songs, and the shepherd hypothesis argues for a story about Solomon seeking to steal a man’s betrothed. I find problems or difficulties with all these frameworks, but points of agreement with most of the common interpretative motifs. You’ve been warned; Song of Solomon has always been one of the hardest books for me to interpret.

We begin today’s reading with three characters: a woman, a chorus of onlookers, and the woman’s beloved. What can confuse initially is her insistence on calling her beloved “king”, which will complicate matters when we encounter Solomon in chapter 3. I will wait to explain that difficulty, but for today, the choice this woman makes of calling her betrothed beloved “king” is the choice to declare her delight in and reverence for this man. We see in our reading that he returns the favor when he declares, “her eyes are like doves” and that she is “like a lily among thorns."

In summary, today we see the mutual delight of an engaged couple, with the voices of a chorus of onlookers interacting in this song to praise the wonders of each individually and to invite us to enjoy the delights of their love.

 

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, Psalm 141

It is hard to piece together the various contrasting parts in Ecclesiastes, so it is very nice that the author ends with something akin to a moral for the entire book. This main idea, “To fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13), is familiar because it really is the point of all the wisdom literature.

But how does the seeming vanity of much of life point us to the importance of obeying God? Since everything in life apart from God’s pleasure is ultimately fleeting and even incapable of fulfilling our never-ending appetites, we should focus on what truly matters. God judges all, according to the end of Ecclesiastes. Since this is true, let us turn our hearts afresh to God with reverence and a desire to obey Him in all things.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8, Psalm 140

In our youth we are more prone to be charmed by the vanities of life, often chasing after the wind. As we grow older, our appreciation of the simply gifts in life grows as well. Solomon appeals to the young to focus on God in their youth. This is because everything that we find pleasure in without proper regard and love for our creator is meaningless. To Solomon, our youth isn’t the time to “sow our wild oats” and then return to our God when life is more boring and drab. Rather, God is worth all of our love as soon as possible, because God is delightful.

Solomon has pursued all the riches, fame, and honor this life can afford and he calls it “meaningless”. Knowing God in all our days is the one thing Solomon considers a worthy pursuit.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 11:1-8, Psalm 139

“Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” This famous wisdom is very much like that which Solomon offers us to begin today’s reading. If you are a farmer, don’t put all of your hope in a good corn crop, but diversify. If you invest money, don’t put all your hopes in one company or one type of company, but diversify. Solomon begins our reading with an admonition to invest in seven to eight ventures, and ends with a call to work hard in many areas, because we cannot know what will succeed.

Additionally, Solomon wants us to realize that we do well to focus on our work, and not spend all the hours of our day worrying about factors we cannot control in our work (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4). Really, Solomon’s advice about not watching the sky predates the famous serenity prayer which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

In summary, we do well to work hard at many things, keeping our focus on the works of our hands rather than what is out of our hands.

Jeremiah Vaught
In Case You Missed It -- Ecclesiastes 9:13-10:20, Psalm 138

Ecclesiastes 10 sounds a lot like the Proverbs, much of which Solomon also wrote. Before Solomon makes his familiar contrasts between wisdom and folly, he tells an interesting story. In a veiled fashion, he recalls a wise man who somehow prevented his tiny city from being destroyed by a great king on a rampage. Though we would love more details about how this wise man did such a thing, the point of Solomon’s story isn’t merely to tell it but to use the story as an example of wisdom’s superiority to power, which prepares the theme of the next chapter.

Power, raw and brute, is no good if one doesn’t know how to use it well. Thus, wisdom with little strength is superior because weakness moving in the right direction is better than power in the wrong direction. By all means, brothers and sisters, pursue wisdom, for it is far superior to precious jewels and the powers of great armies.

Jeremiah Vaught