The Bible is the very best book that ever has been, or ever will be, written. It is the Word of God to man for all time. To read it is to be changed by it. The following commentaries are unfinished, but they will never be finished. As such, I commit them to the reader and to the hand of God.
We can try to ignore the Bible, but we will fail. We can minimize its import, but we are only kidding, and hurting, ourselves.
The Bible is the most popular, and controversial, book in human history. There are those who love and live by it, those who revile and attack it, and those who ignore it. Great leaders in the past have honored it:
“The New Testament is the very best book that ever was or ever will be written in the world.” Charles Dickens
“The Bible is no mere book, but a Living Creature, with a power that conquers all that oppose it.” Napoleon Bonaparte
“The secret of my success? It is simple. It is found in the Bible, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’” George Washington Carver
“That Book accounts for the supremacy of England.” Queen Victoria
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for this Book we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable to man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.” Abraham Lincoln
In Exodus 33:3 God promised to take the Hebrews, recently freed from slavery in Egypt, to a “land flowing with milk and honey.” During my trip to Israel in March of 1995 when I approached Jerusalem, I was a little skeptical of the “milk and honey” description. Much of the land is dry and hilly, and it was warm even that early in the year. Israel more resembled where I grew up, arid Southern Calfornia, than the watered paradise I had envisaged. After many years and much study, I have come to realize that Israel truly was “a land flowing with milk and honey”, especially compared to the Arabian Desert and Egypt (beyond the Nile).
Even more important, it is impossible to understand much of the Bible without understanding the agriculture that it describes. Unlike modern industrial and information societies, in which food is so plentiful that only a small minority are involved in its production, Ancient Israel was agricultural. So was every nation around them. Every aspect of their lives, economies, religion, pleasure, and even war revolved around the cycles of nature in a way that few of us can understand.
The Kingdom of Aram (modern Syria) had long been a major military threat to Israel, and Israel had been forced to devote many resources to defense against its northeastern neighbor. During the days of Jehoahaz (816-800 BC), crushing defeats at the hands of the Arameans had reduced Israel’s army to “not more than 50 horsemen, 10 chariots, and 10,000 footmen (2 Kings 13:7).”
An adventurer named Zakir had successfully gained power in the small kingdoms of Hamath, Luash, and the regions nearby, situated northeast of Aram. Hoping to expand his power the king of Aram, Ben Hadad III, formed an alliance to overthrow Zakir and seize Hamath and Luash. According to the Stele of Zakkur, found in 1903 near Aleppo, the Aramean coalition laid siege to the city of Hazrach (cf. Zechariah 9:1) near Damascus, and was defeated. Zakir’s victory destroyed the army of Aram and led to their precipitous decline. These events occurred around 790 BC, and within 30 years Aram had grown so weak that Israel had gained control of Damascus and Hamath themselves (2 Kings 14:28). The borders of Israel expanded almost as far as they had reached under David and Solomon. Assyria, which would destroy Israel itself in 722 BC, was relatively weak since the passing of Shalmaneser III (859 – 824 BC).