Reading 1 - Neh 10
After Ezra's prayer on behalf of the nation, in Neh 9, the people were prepared to seal the covenant with Yahweh, and to dedicate themselves to His service. Four groups sealed the covenants, presumably as representatives of the whole of the nation:
The governor: v 1;
the priests (the heads of 21 priestly families): vv 2-8;
the Levites (17 mentioned): vv 9-13; and
the chief of the people (44 heads of other leading families): vv 14-27.
The phrases "house of our God" and "house of Yahweh" occur nine times in this chapter, emphasizing the importance of the work.
Why is Ezra not mentioned as sealing the covenant? Probably because he was officiating at the ceremony -- in the place of the High Priest and as the representative of God Himself.
Why is Eliashib the High Priest not mentioned? Probably because he had turned away from Nehemiah's party. Were Eliashib and his followers responsible for the apostasy of Neh 13? See Neh 3:1.
Reading 2 - Amos, "for 3 sins and 4"
"For Three Sins, and for Four": The most distinctive feature of Amos' prophecy is the eight-fold repetition of: "This is what the LORD says: 'For three sins of ______, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.' " ("Three... and four" does not necessarily mean "seven"! In Hebrew, a three-fold repetition suggests finality: ie "I will overturn, overturn, overturn..." in Eze 21:27. So "three sins" would be the fulness of transgression, and "four sins" would be a wretched excess -- implying the God had waited far too long to exercise His wrath!) This formula introduces divine statements of judgment about Israel (the northern kingdom) in Amos 2:6-8, and Judah (the southern kingdom) in Amos 2:4,5, as well as six Gentile nations surrounding God's people:
Damascus, or Syria (Amos 1:3-5);
Gaza, or Philistia (Amos 1:6-8);
Tyre, in Lebanon (Amos 1:9,10);
Edom (Amos 1:11,12);
Ammon (Amos 1:13-15); and
Moab (Amos 2:1-3).
Why these nations? Because, during the general period of Israel's (and Judah's) expansion and prosperity, the Jews had allowed themselves to become very much like the idolatrous, immoral nations around them (Amos 3:14-4:2; 6:1-6; 8:11-13). And so the time of God's judgments upon the Gentile nations would also see severe chastening of Israel and Judah. But there would be this difference: God's people, or rather a remnant of God's people, would survive the severe judgments and emerge stronger, their faith having been tested so that they learn once again to trust in the LORD their God (Amos 3:1,2; 9:9).
Reading 3 - 1Ti 5:25
"Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1Ti 5:23).
This verse seems out of context; in other words, vv 21,22,24,25 could be read entirely reasonably WITHOUT v 23. What is the point? Perhaps: as Paul writes these verses encouraging Timothy to "keep himself pure" (v 22), he realizes that Timothy may be too much given to asceticism, and so Paul reminds Timothy that -- given his constitution -- a little wine could be a healthful thing! Timothy may have been of a weak constitution, as Paul had seemed himself to be, and he would then need the strengthening effects of a little wine. (This verse is a corrective against the suggestion that "wine" in Scripture means unfermented grape juice and nothing more. If so, then what strengthening effect could be derived?)
In his autobiography Robert Roberts recounts a similar miscalculation: while a young man he embarked with the best of intentions upon a strict (but unbalanced) vegetarian diet (more precisely, as I recall, a rice-only diet!), only to come dangerously close to ruining his health.
Paul is saying here, "Not that I enjoin upon you that extreme and foolish 'purity' which is asceticism. You may even go so far as to use a little wine, as it might be needed for your health." God commands believers to use all Scriptural means which may be at their disposal for preserving health to keep their "temples" sound.
But it is good never to forget the other side of the coin. "Be not drunken with wine" (1Ti 3:3; Eph 5:18). Our thoughts must not be clouded by the effects of alcohol or any other strong depressant or stimulant.
The sentiment here expressed is inconsistent with the opinion of some fanatical advocates of total abstinence, that drinking wine is altogether incompatible with true Christianity. Pharisaic 'purity' in such cases does not guarantee true godliness. On the contrary, it can lead to mechanical, rote worship, in following the do's and don'ts of "the Law". Even so, common sense (scriptural sense) should guide us in matters such as this. Paul recommends this to Timothy for purely medicinal purposes, not as a means of escape or a way to warm the 'cockles of his heart'.
In addition, we must consider the weaker members because our liberty should not be an occasion of stumbling to someone else. "If meat makes my brother to offend, I will not eat meat so long as the world stands." We would not want our liberty to be an occasion of stumbling to someone outside the faith either. An elder will give no occasion for the Truth or its adherents to be evil spoken of. Ascetic ideas regarding alcohol seem to play a more professed role today than in the past (wine was frequently taken with meals in Jesus' day). Therefore this word of caution.
And it should be noted that there are brothers and sisters who are recovering alcoholics -- for whom even a "little wine" could be the last push over the edge into the abyss. Clearly such advice as Paul dispenses here is not for them!
Finally... the very unpretentious quality of this tidbit of personal advice is an argument for the genuineness of this letter. Would an imposter have thought to include such mundane but practical details? This verse could have come from no pen but Paul's.