Daily Bible Reading — May 28

MAY28 — Deuteronomy 1; Psalms 81—82; Isaiah 29; 3 John

IN THE THIRD MAJOR SECTION of his book (chaps. 28—35), Isaiah focuses on the central issue that the Jerusalem monarch faces. Will the southern kingdom turn to Egypt as it seeks to withstand the aggression of Assyria, or will it trust the Lord? The nature of the crisis and the abysmal voices circulating in the court occupy chapters 28—29. Chapters 30—31 pronounce woes on all who rely on Egypt: in that direction lies only disaster. Chapters 32—33 depict the godly solution: trust the living God who reigns as King in the midst of his people. The last two chapters of the section, 34 and 35, display respectively the scorched earth of judgment that will result from trusting pagan nations, and the garden of delight that awaits those who trust the Lord.

Isaiah 29, then, is part of the description of the crisis. Jerusalem is addressed as “Ariel” (29:1, 2, 7). We know this stands for Jerusalem, because it is described as “the city where David settled” (29:1). The coinage is almost certainly Isaiah’s; there is no record of any earlier use of this word for Jerusalem. “Ariel” is a pun on “altar hearth”—the flat surface on the altar where the fire consumed the sacrifices (cf. Ezek. 43:15). God says he is going to “besiege Ariel,” which will be to him “like an altar hearth” (29:2): God will ignite the fires of judgment under Jerusalem.

The tragedy of the situation lies in the sheer blindness of the people. This is simultaneously their perversity and God’s judgment (29:9-10). No matter what God discloses through Isaiah, the people simply blank out when they hear his words. The truth they cannot fathom; they have no categories for it, for their hearts are far removed from God’s ways (29:13). For them, all that Isaiah says remains like words sealed up in a scroll they cannot read (29:11-12). Even their worship becomes little more than conformity to rules (29:13b). So when God does finally break through, it will be with “wonder upon wonder,” all designed to overthrow the pretensions of the “wise” and “intelligent” (29:14) who counsel the king to do what God forbids.

The ultimate fulfillment of this pattern takes place in gospel times. Paul understands perfectly well how the person without the Spirit of God finds the truth of the Gospel largely incoherent, how the “wise” and “intelligent” broach many schemes, none of them consistent with the Gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-31; 2:14). Here, too, God destroys the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor. 1:19; Isa. 29:14), for his own way is what none of the wise had foreseen: the sheer “foolishness” of the cross.

 

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 2 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 2. Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.

Daily Bible Reading — May 27

MAY27 — Numbers 36; Psalm 80; Isaiah 28; 2 John

EVEN A CURSORY READING OF 2 John shows that the background to this short epistle overlaps in some measure with the background to 1 John. In both epistles there is a truth question tied to the identity of Jesus Christ. “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7). These particular deceivers denied “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh”—which, interpreted paraphrastically, means they denied that Jesus was Christ come in the flesh. They introduced a hiatus between the flesh-and-blood Jesus and the “Christ” who came upon him. Thus they denied the essential oneness of Jesus Christ, the God/man, the one who was simultaneously Son of God and human being. There were many sad implications.

The reasons for this doctrinal aberration were bound up with widespread cultural pressures. Suffice it to say that these “deceivers,” these “errorists” (as some have called them), thought of themselves as advanced thinkers, as progressives. They did not see themselves as evaluating the Christian faith and choosing to deny certain cardinal truths, picking and choosing according to some obscure principle. Rather, they saw themselves as providing a true and progressive interpretation of the whole, over against the conservatives and traditionalists who really did not understand the culture. That is why John speaks of them, with heavy irony, as running ahead of the truth: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (9). John’s stance is much like the old minister who hears some newfangled doctrine and opines,

You say I am not with it.

My friend, I do not doubt it.
But when I see what I’m not with,
I’d rather be without it.

The crucial issue, of course, is not whether one is “progressive” or not, or a “traditionalist” or not: one could be a progressive in a good or a bad sense, and a traditionalist in a good or a bad sense. Such labels, by themselves, are frequently manipulative and rarely add much clarity to complex matters. The real issue is whether or not one is holding to the apostolic Gospel, whether or not one is continuing in the teaching of Christ. That is the perennial test.

Which contemporary movements fail this test, either because they rush “ahead” of the Gospel in their drive to be contemporary or because they have become encrusted with traditions that domesticate the Gospel?

 

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 2 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 2. Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.

Daily Bible Reading — May 9

MAY 9 — Numbers 17—18; Psalm 55; Isaiah 7; James 1

THE INTERPRETATIONS OF ISAIAH 7 are legion. In my view only two are plausible.

The setting is clear enough (7:1-12). King Ahaz of Judah is terrified of the northern kingdom of Israel forming an alliance with Syria and destroying the southern kingdom. He is therefore unwilling to join them in their pact against the regional superpower, Assyria. In fact, he thinks that by becoming a vassal state of Assyria he might gain some security against the northern kingdom and Syria. The Lord tells Isaiah to take his son Shear-Jashub (which can mean either “a remnant shall return” or “a remnant shall repent”) and meet King Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct; apparently the king is inspecting the water supply in anticipation of a long siege. Isaiah has a radical alternative plan to propose from the Lord: trust no one but God, and God will protect Jerusalem and Judah. But under a pretense of piety Ahaz refuses to do this (7:12), and therefore judgment must follow: Judah will shortly be attacked and overrun by the very Assyria Ahaz courts for protection (7:17-20).

Uncertainty arises over the Immanuel prophecy. On one view, the end of Isaiah 6, which anticipates the rise of a righteous remnant, is tied to the name of Isaiah’s son: at least a remnant will repent, and Ahaz is invited to join that remnant. Zion, pictured as a young woman, gives birth to the faithful remnant who will emerge from her sufferings. This “son” is given the name “Immanuel” precisely because God is with us, the faithful remnant. Note the change from “your God” (7:11) to “my God” (7:13). Before this “son” reaches the age of moral discernment (not more than a few years), the land will have been devastated by Assyria (7:17)— for the Lord himself will whistle up the opponents. Even before this (7:16a), the lands of Israel and Syria will be laid waste. From the righteous remnant springs the Messiah—which is why Matthew 1:23 can apply Isaiah 7:14 to Jesus.

By the alternative view, Ahaz, despite his pious language (7:12), has utterly rejected the Lord’s demand that he trust the Lord and abandon any thought of an alliance with Assyria. So the “sign” promised in 7:13-14 is not a sign inviting repentance but a sign confirming divine condemnation (as in, e.g., Ex. 3:12; 1 Sam. 2:34; Isa. 37:30). Judging by the high expectations of verse 11, the sign must be spectacular, not merely a time-lag before a young woman becomes pregnant. Despite arguments to the contrary, the word rendered “virgin” really should be taken that way. In this light, the “Immanuel” prophecy really is messianic. The title, “God with us,” anticipates “mighty God” applied to the Davidic Messiah in Isaiah 9:2-7. His coming retrospectively confirms all the judgment that has been pronounced.

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 2 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 2. Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.

Daily Bible Reading — May 8

MAY 8 Numbers 16; Psalms 52—54; Isaiah 6; Hebrews 13

PROBABLY ISAIAH’S VISION OF God and his commission (Isa. 6) took place at the beginning of his ministry, but it is reported only here, for thematic reasons. After the series of “woes” pronounced on the people, Isaiah pronounces one on himself (6:5), which shows that his stance as a prophet has never been self-righteous. Moreover, the sequence of his own call—seeing God (6:1-4), deep awareness and confession of sin (6:5), cleansing (6:6-7) and commissioning (6:8-13)—is precisely the sequence that Israel must experience if they are to return to their proper role as servant of the living God. It is the sequence we must follow too. Moreover, several elements in Isaiah’s call are then picked up in the ensuing chapters (as we shall see), making this placement of the narrative of his vision of God highly strategic. Some notes:

(1) It was when King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne—as if the earthly king had to die before Isaiah could begin to grasp the awe- someness of the divine King.

(2) The seraphs, a high order of angelic beings, enhance the throne by their adoration and praise. God is the “thrice holy” God. In its core usage, “holy” is almost an adjective for God, and embraces both his transcendence and his righteousness (5:16).

(3) When the finite, the unclean, and the mortal comes into contact with the infinite, the pure, and the immortal, there must be, there ought to be, a profound sense of inadequacy. To begin to see God is to begin to see how awful and desperate our plight is. The holiness of God discloses our rebellious and dirty nature to us in a way that mutual comparisons among the members of the rebel race never can. Here Isaiah condemns himself, for in the presence of God degrees of sin seem superfluous.

(4) Only the cleansing provided by the altar that God himself has prescribed will suffice to take away Isaiah’s sin.

(5) For the first time in this vision, God speaks, and looks for volunteers (itself a gracious act of condescension). When Isaiah responds, it is less the cry of the hero than the petition of the pardoned. It is as if he is begging, “Here! Please! Will I do? Is there any way I can help? Will you please use me?”

(6) The substance of the commission Isaiah receives is to preach on until the irrevocable judgment falls. There is no prospect of revival. It is too late. The preach- ing will serve only to harden the people. The only hint of hope—a hint powerfully developed later in the book (11:1)—is that out of the stump of the destroyed nation new life will spring, and through this remnant the promised seed (6:13b).
This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 2 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 2. Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.

Bible Reading — April 20

APRIL 20 — Leviticus 24; Psalm 31; Ecclesiastes 7; 2 Timothy 3

IN ECCLESIASTES 7, THE BOOK’S FORM changes, taking on the more typical structure of Wisdom Literature: a string of proverbs. But these proverbs do not, by and large, adopt the stance of the person who holds that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (cf. Prov. 9:10). Rather, Qoheleth maintains his quest, searching out the meaning of things explored “from below.” These “common sense” proverbs are touched with an edge of cynicism that is brutally honest but not leavened with godly faith.

The first six are provocatively gloomy. Nothing in the first line prepares the reader for the rabbit punch of the second: e.g., “the day of death [is] better than the day of birth” (7:1b). This is not the confession of faith as in Philippians 1:21, 23. The most positive thing that could be said about this proverb is that it is bluntly realistic, and all of us would benefit from learning to live in light of the fact that we too must die—as the second part of verse 2 makes explicit: “for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart” (cf. Ps. 90:12). The line of thought to the end of verse 6 is similarly cheerless, but its brutal frankness has cautionary value.

The proverbs in 7:7-22 are harder to categorize. There is a kind of practical attempt to make sense of the world, but it is the attempt of the worldly person. Verses 8 and 9 are doubtless good counsel in the life of the believer, but in this context they have a merely pragmatic tinge. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (7:10). This annihilates self-indulgent nostalgia, for the Teacher is unlikely to be impressed by the hazy glow that surrounds the past: he has already shown his hand on this point (see 1:9). True, Qoheleth praises wisdom (7:11-12), but with a cool affirmation of its utilitarian value—it has advantages, just as money does. In this mood Qoheleth can fluctuate between pious resignation (7:12) and outrageous cynicism (7:13-18)—what F. Derek Kidner labels “the shabby and self-regarding side of common sense.” So also verse 18 is moral cowardice tarted up with stoicism.

The ultimate failure of such wisdom, which does not begin with the fear of the Lord, is acknowledged in the closing verses of the chapter (7:23-29). The Teacher is determined to be wise, but his brand of wisdom “from below” leaves him unable to glimpse much of the real meaning of life; true wisdom is still beyond him (7:23-25), and his own wisdom is clothed with a cynicism regarding human relationships that says more about him than about the people he describes (7:27-28). Only when he returns to the pattern of Creation and Fall (7:29) does he begin to approach a more stable answer.

 

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 2 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 2. Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.