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Background to the New Testament #4

Travel, Inns, Hospitality, Taxation

                    BACKGROUND TO THE NEW TESTAMENT #4



TRAVELLING IN PALESTINE - ROADS, INNS, HOSPITALITY, CUSTOM-HOUSE
OFFICERS, TAXATION, PUBLICANS.



MAIN ROAD/S

     IT was the very busiest road in Palestine, on which the
publican Levi Matthew sat at the receipt of "custom," when our
Lord called him to the fellowship of the Gospel, and he then made
that great feast to which he invited his fellowpublicans, that
they also might see and hear Him in Whom he had found life and
peace (Luke v. 29). For, it was the only truly international road
of all those which passed through Palestine; indeed, it formed
one of the great highways of the world's commerce. At the time of
which we write, it may be said, in general, that six main
arteries of commerce and intercourse traversed the country, the
chief objective points to Gaza, and eastwards into Arabia, whence
also a direct road went northwards to Damascus. It is by this
road we imagine St.Paul to have travelled, when retiring into the
solitudes of Arabia, immediately after his conversion (Gal. i.
17,I8). The road to Hebron must have been much frequented by
priestly and other pilgrims to the city, and by it the father of
the Baptist and the parents of Jesus would pass. SECONDLY here
was the old highway along the sea-shore from Egypt up to Tyre,
whence a straight, but not so much frequented, road struck, by
Caesarea Philippi, to Damascus. But the sea-shore road itself,
which successively touched Gaza, Ascalon, Jamnia, Lydda,
Diospolis, and finally Caesarea and Ptolemais, was probably the
most important military highway in the land, connecting the
capital with the seat of the Roman procurator at Caesarea, and
keeping the sea-board and its harbours free for communication.   
This road branched off for Jerusalem at Lydda, where it
bifurcated, leading either by Beth-horon or by Emmaus, which was
the longer way. It was probably by this road that the Roman
escort hurried off St.Paul (Acts xxiii. 31), the mounted soldiers
leaving him at Antipatris, about twenty Roman miles from Lydda,
and altogether from Jerusalem about fifty-two Roman miles (the
Roman mile being 1,618 yards, the English mile 1,760). Thus the
distance to Caesarea, still left to be traversed next morning by
the cavalry would be about twenty-six Roman miles, or, the whole
way, seventy-eight Roman miles from Jerusalem. This rate of
travelling, though rapid, cannot be regarded as excessive, since
an ordinary day's journey is computed in the Talmud (Pes.93b)
as high as forty Roman miles. 
     A THIRD road from Jerusalem, by Beth-horon and Lydda, to by
the sea-shore to Caesarea.    This was the road which Peter and
his companions would take when summoned to go and preach the
gospel to Cornelius (Acts x. 23,24). It was at Lydda, thirty-two
Roman miles from Jerusalem, that AEneas was miraculously healed,
and "nigh" to it - within a few miles - was Joppa, where the
raising of Tabitha, Dorcas, "the gazelle " (Acts ix. 32-43), took
place.    
     Of the FOURTH great highway, which led from Galilee to
Jerusalem, t through Samaria, branching at Sichem eastwards to
Damascus, and westwards to Caesarea, it is needless to say much,
since, although much shorter, it was, if possible, eschewed by
Jewish travellers; though, both in going to (Luke ix. 53; xvii. 
11), and returning from Jerusalem (John iv. 4,43), the Lord Jesus
passed that way. The road from Jerusalem straight northwards also
branched off at Goplina, whence it led across to Diospolis, and
so on to Caesarea. 1  But ordinarily, Jewish travellers would,
rather than pass through Samaria, face the danger of robbers
which awaited them (Luke x. 30) along the FIFTH great highway
(comp. Luke xix. 1,28; Matt. xx. 17,29), led from Jerusalem, by
Bethany, to Jericho. Here the Jordan was forded, and the road led
to Gilead, and thence either southwards, or else north to Peraea,
whence the traveller could make his way into Galilee.  It will be
observed that all these roads, whether commercial or military,
were, so to speak, Judaean, and radiated from or to Jerusalem.   
     But th SIXTH AND great road, which passed through Galilee,
was not at all primarily Jewish, but connected the East with the
West - Damascus with Rome. From Damascus it led across the Jordan
to Capernaum, Tiberias, and Nain (where it fell in with a direct
road from Samaria), to Nazareth, and thence to Ptolemais. Thus,
from its position, Nazareth was on the world's great highway.    
     What was spoken there might equally re-echo throughout
Palestine, and be carried to the remotest lands of the East and
of the West.
     It need scarcely be said, that the roads which we have thus

......

1 In Conybeare and Howson's "Life and Epistles of St.Paul" (ii.
p.331) this route is indicated as that taken by the Roman
soldiery, when conducting St.Paul to Caesarea.

......


traced are only those along the principal lines of
communication. 


SECONDARY ROADS

     But a large number of secondary roads also traversed the
country in all directions. Indeed, from earliest times much
attention seems to have been given to facility of intercourse
throughout the land. Even in the days of Moses we read of "the
king's highway" (Numb. xx. 17,19; xxi. 22). In Hebrew we have,
besides the two general terms (derech and orach), three
expressions which respectively indicate a trodden or beaten-down
path (nathiv, from nathav, to tread down), a made or cast-up road
(messillah, from salal, to cast up), and "the king's highway " -
the latter, evidently for national purposes, and kept up at the
public expense. In the time of the kings (for example, 1 Kings
xii. 18), and even earlier, there were regular carriage roads,
although we can scarcely credit the statement of Josephus (Antiq.
viii. 7,4) that Solomon had caused the principal roads to be
paved with black stone - probably basalt. Toll was apparently
levied in the time of Ezra (Ezra iv. 13,20); but the clergy were
exempt from this as from all other taxation (vii. 24). The roads
to the cities of refuge required to be always kept in good order
(Deut. xix. 3). According to the Talmud they were to be
forty-eight feet wide, and provided with bridges, and with
sign-posts where roads diverged.
     Passing to later times, the Romans, as might have been
expected, paid great attention to the modes of communication
through the country. The military roads were paved, and provided
with milestones. But the country roads were chiefly bridle-paths.
The Talmud distinguishes between public and private roads. The
former must be twenty-four, the latter six feet wide. It is added
that, for the king's highway, and for the road taken by funerals,
there is no measure (Baba B. vi. 7).


STRUCTURE AND REPAIRS

     Roads were annually repaired in spring, preparatory for
going up to the great feasts. To prevent the possibility of
danger, no subterranean structure, however protected, was allowed
under a public road. Overhanging branches of trees had to be cut
down, so as to allow a man on a camel to pass. A similar rule
applied to balconies and projections; nor were these permitted to
darken a street. Any one allowing things to accumulate on the
road, or dropping them from a cart, had to make good what damage
might be incurred by travellers. Indeed, in towns and their
neighbourhood the police regulations were even more strict; and
such ordinances occur as for the removal within thirty days of
rotten trees or dangerous walls; not to pour out water on the
road; not to throw out anything on the street, nor to leave about
building materials, or broken glass, or thorns, along with other
regulations for the public safety and health. 1
     Along such roads passed the travellers; few at first, and
mostly pilgrims, but gradually growing in number, as commerce and
social or political intercourse increased. Journeys were
performed on foot, upon asses, or in carriages (Acts viii. 28),
of which three kinds are mentioned--the round carriage, perhaps
like our gig; the elongated, like a bed; and the cart, chiefly
for the transport of goods. It will be understood that in those
days travelling was neither comfortable nor easy. Generally,
people journeyed in company, of which the festive bands going to
Jerusalem are a well-known instance. If otherwise, one would
prepare for a journey almost as for a change of residence, and
provide tent, victuals, and all that was needful by the way.     
It was otherwise with the travelling hawker, who was welcomed as
a friend in every district


......

1 Chiefly gathered from the juridical tractates Baba Kama and
Baba Bathra.

......


through which he passed, who carried the news of the day,
exchanged the products of one for those of another district, and
produced the latest articles of commerce or of luxury. Letters
were only conveyed by special messengers, or through travellers. 


HOSPITALITY

     In such circumstances, the command, "Be not forgetful to
entertain strangers," had a special meaning. Israel was always
distinguished for hospitality; and not only the Bible, but the
Rabbis, enjoin this in the strongest terms. In Jerusalem no man
was to account a house as only his own; and it was said, that
during the pilgrim-feasts none ever wanted ready reception. The
tractate Aboth (1. 5), mentions these as two out of the three
sayings of Jose, the son of Jochanan, of Jerusalem: "Let thy
house be wide open, and let the poor be the children of thy
house." Readers of the New Testament will be specially interested
to know, that, according to the Talmud (Pes. 53), Bethphage and
Bethany, to which in this respect such loving memories cling,
were specially celebrated for their hospitality towards the
festive pilgrims. In Jerusalem it seems to have been the custom
to hang a curtain in front of the door, to indicate that there
was still room for guests. Some went so far as to suggest, there
should be four doors to every house, to bid welcome to travellers
from all directions. The host would go to meet an expected guest,
and again accompany him part of the way (Acts xxi. 5). The Rabbis
declared that hospitality involved as great, and greater merit
than early morning attendance in an academy of learning. They
could scarcely have gone farther, considering the value they
attached to study. Of course, here also the Rabbinical order had
the preference; and hospitably to entertain a sage, and to send
him away with presents, was declared as meritorious as to have
offered the daily sacrifices (Ber. 10, b).

     But let there be no misunderstanding. So far as the duty of
hospitality is concerned, or the loving care for poor and sick,
it were impossible to take a higher tone than that of Rabbinism.
Thus it was declared, that "the entertainment of travellers was
as great a matter as the reception of the Shechinah." This gives
a fresh meaning to the admonition of the Epistle addressed
specially to the Hebrews (xiii. 2): "Be not forgetful to
entertain strangers: for thereby some have enter tained angels
unawares." Bearing on this subject, one of the oldest Rabbinical
commentaries has a very beautiful gloss on Ps. cix. 31: "He shall
stand at the right hand of the poor." "Whenever," we read, "a
poor man stands at thy door, the Holy One, blessed be His Name,
stands at his right hand. If thou givest him alms, know that thou
shalt receive a reward from Him who standeth at his right hand."
In another commentary God Himself and His angels are said to
visit the sick. The Talmud itself counts hospitality among the
things of which the reward is received alike in this life and in
that which is to come (Shab. 127 a), while in another passage
(Sot. 14 a) we are bidden imitate God in these four respects: He
clothed the naked (Gen. iii. 21); He visited the sick (Gen.
xviii. 1); He comforted the mourners (Gen. xxv. 11); and He
buried the dead (Deut. xxxiv. 6).

     In treating of hospitality, the Rabbis display, as in so
many relations of life, the utmost tenderness and delicacy, mixed
with a delightful amount of shrewd knowledge of the world and
quaint humour. As a rule, they enter here also into full details.
Thus the very manner in which a host is to bear himself towards
his guests is prescribed. He is to look pleased when entertaining
his guests, to wait upon them himself, to promise little and to
give much, etc. At the same time it was also caustically added
"Consider all men as if they were robbers, but treat them as if
each were Rabbi Gamaliel himself!" On the other hand, rules of
politeness and gratitude are equally laid down for the guests.   
"Do not throw a stone," it was said, "into the spring at which
you have drunk" (Baba K. 92); or this, "A proper guest
acknowledges all, and saith, 'At what trouble my host has been,
and all for my sake!' - while an evil visitor remarks: 'Bah! what
trouble has he taken?' Then, after enumerating how little he has
had in the house, he concludes; 'And, after all, it was not done
for me, but only for his wife and children!'" (Ber. 58 a). 1

     Indeed, some of the sayings in this connection are
remarkably parallel to the directions which our Lord gave to His
disciples on going forth upon their mission (Luke x. 5-11, and
parallels). Thus, one was to inquire for the welfare of the
family; not to go from house to house; to eat of such things as
were set before one; and, finally, to part with a blessing.
All this, of course, applied to entertainment in private
families. 


FREE INN LODGES

     On unfrequented roads, where villages were at great
intervals, or even outside towns (Luke ii. 7), there were regular
khans, or places of lodgment for strangers.  Like the modern
khans, these places were open, and generally built in a square,
the large court in the middle being intended for the beasts of
burden or carriages, while rooms opened upon galleries all
around. Of course these rooms were not furnished, nor was any
payment expected from the wayfarer. At the

......

1 Abbreviated from the Jer. and the Bab. Talmud.  See also Ber.
63 b; 64 a, where Scriptural examples of the blessing attaching
to hospitality are given.

......


same time, some one was generally attached to the khan - mostly a
foreigner - who would for payment provide anything that might be
needful, of which we have an instance in the parabolic history of
the Good Samaritan (Luke x. 35). Such hostelries are mentioned so
early as in the history of Moses (Gen. xlii. 27; xliii. 2I).
Jeremiah calls them "a place for strangers" (Jer. xli. I7),
wrongly rendered "habitation" in our Authorised Version. In the
Talmud their designations are either Greek or Latin, in Aramaic
form - one of them being the same as that used in Luke x. 34 -
proving that such places were chiefly provided by and for
strangers. 1  In later times we also read of the "oskpisa"
---evidently from "hospitium," and showing its Roman origin - as
a house of public entertainment, where such food as locusts,
pickled, or fried in flour or in honey, and Median or Babylonian
beer, Egyptian drink, and home-made cider or wine, were sold;
such proverbs circulating among the boon companions as "To eat
without drinking is like devouring one's own blood" (Shab. 41 a),
and where wild noise and games of chance were indulged in by
those who wasted their substance by riotous living. In such
places the secret police, whom Herod employed, would ferret out
the opinions of the populace while over their cups. 2  That
police must have been largely employed. According to Josephus
(Ant. xv. 10, 4) spies beset the people, alike in town and
country, watching their conversations in the unrestrained
confidence of friendly intercourse. Herod himself is said to have
acted in that

......

I In the ancient Latin Itineraries of Palestine, journeys are
computed by mansiones (night-quarters) and mutationes (change of
horses) - from five to eight such changes being computed for a
day's journey.
2 See a very Graphic scene sketched in Delilzsch, "Handworker
-Leben zur Z. Jesu.

......


capacity, and to have lurked about the streets at night-time in
disguise to overhear or entrap unwary citizens. Indeed, at one
time the city seems almost to have been under martial law, the
citizens being forbidden "to meet together, to walk or eat
together," - presumably to hold public meetings, demonstrations,
or banquets. History sufficiently records what terrible vengeance
followed the slightest suspicion. The New Testament account of
the murder of all the little children at Bethlehem (Matt. ii.
16), in hope of destroying among them the royal scion of David,
is thoroughly in character with all that we know of Herod and his
reign. There is at least indirect confirmation of this narrative
in Talmudical writings, as there is evidence that all the
genealogical registers in the Temple were destroyed by order of
Herod. 1  This is a most remarkable fact. The Jews retaliated by
an intensity of hatred which went so far as to elevate the day of
Herod's death (2 Shebet) into an annual feast-day, on which all
mourning was prohibited. 2


TAX GATHERER

     But whether passing through town or country, by quiet
side-roads or along the great highway, there was one sight and
scene which must constantly have forced itself upon the attention
of the traveller, and, if he were of Jewish descent, would ever
awaken afresh his indignation and hatred. Whithersoever he went,
he encountered in city or country the well-known foreign
tax-gatherer, and was met by his insolence, by his vexatious
intrusion, and by his exactions. The fact that he was the symbol
of Israel's subjection to foreign domination, galling though it
was, had probably not

......

1 Harnburger, Real Enc. P. ii. p.293; Jost, Cesch. d. Jud. i. p.
324.
2 See the Meg. Taan. or roll of fasts, xi. 1. Compare on this
date Derenbourg, "Hist. de Pal." p.164,165; and Gratz, "Gesch."
d. J. iii. pp.426,427.

......



so much to do with the bitter hatred of the Rabbinists towards
the class of tax-farmers (Moches) and tax-collectors (Gabbai),
both of whom were placed wholly outside the pale of Jewish
society, as that they were so utterly shameless and regardless in
their unconscientious dealings. For, ever since their return from
Babylon, the Jews must, with a brief interval, have been
accustomed to foreign taxation. At the time of Ezra (Ezra iv. 13,
20; vii. 24) they paid to the Persian monarch "toll, tribute, and
custom "--middah, belo, and halach - or rather "ground-tax "
(income and property-tax?), "custom" (levied on all that was for
consumption, or imported), and "toll," or road-money.  Under the
reign of the Ptolemies the taxes seem to have been farmed to the
highest bidder, the price varying from eight to sixteen talents -
- a very small sum indeed, which enabled the Palestine
tax-farmers to acquire immense wealth, and that although they had
continually to purchase arms and court favour. 1  
     During the Syrian rule the taxes seem to have consisted of
tribute, duty on salt, a third of the produce of all that was
sown, and one-half of that from fruit-trees, besides poll-tax,
custom duty, and an uncertain kind of tax, called "crown-money"
(the aurum coronarium of the Romans), originally an annual gift
of a crown of gold, but afterwards compounded for in money. 2    
     Under the Herodians the royal revenue seems to have been
derived from crown lands, from a property and income-tax, from
import and export duties, and from a duty on all that was
publicly sold and bought, to which must be added a tax upon
houses in Jerusalem.
     Heavily as these exactions must have weighed upon a com-

......

1 Jos. "Ant." xii. 4,1,3,4,5. 
2 Ibid. xii. 3, 3.

......


paratively poor and chiefly agricultural population, they refer
only to civil taxation, not to religious dues. 1  But, even so,
we have not exhausted the list of contributions demanded of a
Jew. For, every town and community levied its own taxes for the
maintenance of synagogue, elementary schools, public baths, the
support of the poor, the maintenance of public roads, city walls,
and gates, and other general requirements. 2  It must, however,
be admitted that the Jewish authorities distributed this burden
of civic taxation both easily and kindly, and that they applied
the revenues derived from it for the public welfare in a manner
scarcely yet attained in the most civilised countries. The
Rabbinical arrangements for public education, health, and charity
were, in every respect, far in advance of modern legislation,
although here also they took care themselves not to take the
grievous burdens which they laid upon others, by expressly
exempting from civic taxes all those who devoted themselves to
the study of the law.
     But the Roman taxation, which bore upon Israel with such
crushing weight, was quite of its own kind - systematic, cruel,
relentless, and utterly regardless. In general, the provinces of
the Roman Empire, and what of Palestine belonged to, them, were
subject to two great taxes - poll-tax (or rather income-tax) and
ground-tax. All property and income that fell not under the
ground-tax was subject to poll-tax; which amounted, for Syria and
Cilicia, to one per cent. The "poll-tax" was really twofold,
consisting of income-tax and head-money, the latter, of course,
the same in all cases, and levied on all persons (bond or free)
up to the age of sixty-five

......

1 Comp. my  "Temple: its Ministry and Services at the Time of
Jesus Christ," p.334 
2 For a brief general "apercu" of these taxes, see Hamburger, 
u.s. p.431.


......



- women being liable from the age of twelve and men from that of
fourteen. Landed property was subject to a tax of one-tenth of
all grain, and one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown, partly paid
in product and partly commuted into money. 1  Besides these,
there was tax and duty on all imports and exports, levied on the
great public highways and in the seaports. Then there was
bridge-money and roadmoney, and duty on all that was bought and
sold in the towns. 2  These, which may be called the regular
taxes, were irrespective of any forced contributions, and of the
support which had to be furnished to the Roman procurator and his
household and court at Caesarea. To avoid all possible loss to
the treasury, the proconsul of Syria, Quirinus (Cyrenius), had
taken a regular census to show the number of the population and
their means. This was a terrible crime in the eyes of the Rabbis,
who remembered that, if numbering the people had been reckoned
such great sin of old, the evil must be an hundredfold increased,
if done by heathens and for their own purposes. Another offence
lay in the thought, that tribute, hitherto only given to Jehovah,
was now to be paid to a heathen emperor. "Is it lawful to pay
tribute unto Caesar?" was a sore question, which many an
Israelite put to himself as he placed the emperor's poll-tax
beside the half-shekel of the sanctuary, and the tithe of his
field, vineyard, and orchard, claimed by the tax-gatherer, along
with that which he had hitherto only given unto the Lord. Even
the purpose with which this inquiry was brought before Christ---

......

I Northern Africa alone (exclusive of Egypt) furnished Rome, by
way of taxation, with sufficient corn to last eight months, and
the city of Alexandria to last four months (Jewish Wars, ii. 16,
4).
2 Compare, among others, Hausrath, "Neatest. Zeitg." i. p.167,
etc.

......


to entrap Him in a political denunciation - shows, how much it
was agitated among patriotic Jews; and it cost rivers of blood
before it was not answered, but silenced.
     The Romans had a peculiar way of levying these taxes--not
directly, but indirectly - which kept the treasury quite safe,
whatever harm it might inflict on the taxpayer, while at the same
time it threw upon him the whole cost of the collection. Senators
and magistrates were prohibited from engaging in business or
trade; but the highest order, the equestrian, was largely
composed of great capitalists. These Roman knights formed
joint-stock companies, which bought at public auction the
revenues of a province at a fixed price, generally for five
years. The board had its chairman, or "magister," and its offices
at Rome. These were the real Publicani, or publicans, who often
underlet certain of the taxes. The Publicani, or those who held
from them, employed either slaves or some of the lower classes in
the country as taxgatherers - the publicans of the New Testament.
Similarly, all other imposts were farmed and collected; some of
them being very onerous, and amounting to an "ad valorem" duty of
two and a half, of five, and in articles of luxury even of twelve
and a half per cent. Harbour-dues were higher than ordinary
tolls, and smuggling or a false declaration was punished by
confiscation of the goods. Thus the publicans also levied import
and export dues, bridge-toll, road-money, town-dues, etc.; and,
if the peaceable inhabitant, the tiller of the soil, the
tradesman, or manufacturer was constantly exposed to their
exactions, the traveller, the caravan, or the pedlar encountered
their vexatious presence at every bridge, along the road, and at
the entrance to cities.  Every bale had to be unloaded, and all
its contents tumbled about and searched; even letters were
opened; and it must have taken more than Eastern patience to bear
their insolence and to submit to their "unjust accusations" in
arbitrarily fixing the return from land or income, or the value
of goods, etc. For there was no use appealing against them,
although the law allowed this, since the judges themselves were
the direct beneficiaries by the revenue; for they before whom
accusations on this score would have to be laid, belonged to the
order of knights, who were the very persons implicated in the
farming of the revenue. Of course, the joint-stock company of
Publicani at Rome expected its handsome dividends; so did the
tax-gatherers in the provinces, and those to whom they on
occasions sublet the imposts. All wanted to make money of the
poor people; and the cost of the collection had of course to be
added to the taxation. 
     We can quite understand how Zaccheus, one of the supervisors
of these tax-gatherers in the district of Jericho, which, from
its growth and export of balsam, must have yielded a large
revenue, should, in remembering his past life, have at once said:

"If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation" - or,
rather, "Whatever I have wrongfully exacted of any man." 1   For
nothing was more common than for the publican to put a fictitious
value on property or income. Another favourite trick of theirs
was to advance the tax to those who were unable to pay, and then
to charge usurious interest on what had thereby become a private
debt. How summarily and harshly such debts were exacted, appears
from the New Testament itself. In Matt. xviii. 28 we read of a
creditor who, for the small debt of one hundred denars, seizes
the debtor 

......

1 Dean Alford's translation.

......



by the throat in the open street, and drags him to prison; the
miserable man, in his fear of the consequences, in vain falling
down at his feet, and beseeching him to have patience, in not
exacting immediate full payment. What these consequences were, we
learn from the same parable, where the King threatens not only to
sell off all that his debtor has, but even himself, his wife, and
children into slavery (ver.25). And what short shrift such an
unhappy man had to expect from "the magistrate," appears from the
summary procedure, ending in imprisonment till "the last mite"
had been paid, described in Luke xii. 58.

     However, therefore, in far-off Rome, Cicero might describe
the Publicani as "the flower of knighthood, the ornament of the
state, and the strength of the republic," or as "the most upright
and respected men," the Rabbis in distant Palestine might be
excused for their intense dislike of "the publicans," even
although it went to the excess of declaring them incapable of
bearing testimony in a Jewish court of law, of forbidding to
receive their charitable gifts, or even to change money out of
their treasury (Baba K. x. 1), of ranking them not only with
harlots and heathens, but with highwaymen and murderers (Ned.
iii. 4), and of even declaring them excommunicate. Indeed, it was
held lawful to make false returns, to speak untruth, or almost to
use any means to avoid paying taxes (Ned. 27 b.; 28 a). And about
the time of Christ the burden of such exactions must have been
felt all the heavier on account of a great financial crisis in
the Roman Empire (in the year 33 of our era), which involved so
many in bankruptcy, and could not have been without its indirect
influence even upon distant Palestine.


JESUS' DISCIPLES

     Of such men - despised Galileans, unlettered fishermen,
excommunicated publicans - did the blessed Lord, in His self-
humiliation, choose His closest followers, His special apostles!
     What a contrast to the Pharisaical notions of the Messiah
and His kingdom! What a lesson to show, that it was not "by might
nor by power," but by His Spirit, and that God had chosen the
base things of this world, and things that were despised, to
confound things that were mighty!  Assuredly, this offers a new
problem, and one harder of solution than many others, to those
who would explain everything by natural causes. Whatever they may
say of the superiority of Christ's teaching to account for its
success, no religion could ever have been more weighted; no
popular cause could ever have presented itself under more
disadvantageous circumstances than did the Gospel of Christ to
the Jews of Palestine. Even from this point of view, to the
historical student familiar with the outer and inner life of that
period, there is no other explanation of the establishment of
Christ's kingdom than the power of the Holy Ghost.

     Such a custom-house officer was Matthew Levi, when the voice
of our Lord, striking to the inmost depths of his heart, summoned
him to far different work. It was a wonder that the Holy One
should speak to such an one as he; and oh! in what different
accents from what had ever fallen on his ears. But it was not
merely condescension, kindness, sympathy, even familiar
intercourse with one usually regarded as a social pariah; it was
the closest fellowship, it was reception into the innermost
circle; it was a call to the highest and holiest work which the
Lord offered to Levi. And the busy road on which he sat to
collect customs and dues would now no more know the familiar face
of Levi, otherwise than as that of a messenger of peace, who
brought glad tidings of great joy.

                            ..................


To be continued

NOTE:

Oh what might is the power and love of the Lord. He chose a small
planet, off on the edge of a Galaxie, to create mankind, to give
them freedom to sin, and to plan their redemption. He chose the
basic weak and lowly people to be His disciples; those who could
admit their sins and repent in humility; and so through the
Savior's love and power of the Holy Spirit, they would go forth
and as one secular leader put it in the book of Acts, "Are these
they who have turned the world upside-down."

I've just finished watching the interview on ABC's 20/20
(November 20th 2008) with the 23 year old young landy who was the
"estcort" lady that brought down a high profile New York
politician. Her life in a mess through her teen years, she
finally ended up on drugs and went into the "escort service"
industry. With tears she recounted how it all happened. She's
been offered to write a book, pose for a men's girly magazine,
but has turned it all down, saying she is no longer "that girl"
that she was. 
I've no idea if Jesus has come into her life. But I can see her
as the woman caught in adultery, brought before Jesus by the
Pharisees, to see if He would condemn her to death by stoning. I
can see Jesus seeing this "escort lady" with tears streaming down
her face: "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man
condemned thee?" And she said, "No man, Lord." And Jesus said
unto her, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and SIN NO MORE!" (John
8:10-11).

Jesus called the tax-collectors, called the fishermen, called
"escort ladies" to see themselves in His light, to humble
themselves in repentance, to follow Him, to be now a changed
person; to now proclaim the love and mercy of God. Such indeed
were the first disciples of our Lord. He took that which in the
eyes of the "educated" and "high" classed nobility of society,
was the "down on the bottom strata of life" people, and made them
the lights of the world, the proclaimers of the peace of
salvation and of the Kingdom of God.

Ah, yes, how mighty is the power of the Spirit of the Lord.

Keith Hunt


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