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Daily Bible Reading — September 18

2 Samuel 14; 2 Corinthians 7; Ezekiel 21; Psalm 68

PSALM 68 IS ONE OF THE MOST exuberant and boisterous psalms in the Psalter. The opening lines mingle praise and petition that focus on God’s justice and compassion (68:1-6). The next verses (68:7-18) picture the march of God from Sinai on—probably on to Jerusalem as the place where the tabernacle would be sited. Some have argued that this psalm was composed to be sung for the joyous procession that brought the ark from the house of Obed-Edom to the city of David (2 Sam. 6:12). Probably verses 24-27 lay out the cavalcade of participants in the procession as they come into view, bringing the ark up to Jerusalem (compare the list with 1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16-28). So great is the glory of the Lord reigning in Jerusalem that all the other nations are envisaged as coming to do homage to him. The psalm ends with an explosive fanfare of praise (68:32-35): “You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people” (68:35).

But here I wish to reflect a little further on 68:11: “The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it.” In the context of this psalm, the “word” that the Lord announced is the word of victory. We are to envisage some such scene as 2 Samuel 18:19ff., where a victorious general announces his victory—only here the victory belongs to the Lord, and he is the One who announces the word. The result is as in 1 Samuel 18:6-7: the streets fill with people who are dancing and singing for joy at the victory. When the Lord announced the word, “great was the company of those who proclaimed it”—and what they proclaimed is found in the following verses.

All of the Lord’s victories deserve our praise and our proclamation. That is why the victories envisaged here become a pattern for things to come. When the Lord announces that he will reverse the sanctions imposed on Israel, the good news is to be carried to the ends of the earth: the fleet messengers who convey such good news have beautiful feet (Isa. 52:7; see meditation for June 20). Small wonder, then, that the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah 52:7 with respect to the Gospel (Rom. 10:15): the ultimate end of the exile, the ultimate triumph of God, lies in the Gospel itself. As in the case of the beautiful feet pounding across the mountains to bring the good news, and as in the case of the company of those who proclaimed the word the Lord announced, so also with us (and how much more so!): the only right response to the word of the glorious victory of God in the cross of Jesus Christ is that there be a great company to proclaim it.
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 — September 17

2 Samuel 13; 2 Corinthians 6; Ezekiel 20; Psalms 66—67

AS IN EZEKIEL 8, WHERE THE elders of the exilic community consult with the prophet, so here in Ezekiel 20. As in the earlier instance, God gives Ezekiel something to say to the elders and to the community they represent.

Part of what Ezekiel conveys has been said before. The Sovereign Lord is not too eager to let them consult him when he finds their hearts so distant (20:2-4, 31; cf. chaps. 13—14). There follows a survey of Israel’s history of rebellions. But there are two or three themes in this chapter that have either not been introduced before or have been barely mentioned.

The first is the sheer glory of God: that is one of God’s driving concerns behind the judgments that have fallen and are about to fall. For the sake of his own name God has done what would keep his name “from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight [he] had brought them out” (20:14; cf. 20:22). This theme is further developed in chapters 36 and 39. It is so central in Scripture that we are in danger of overlooking it precisely because of its familiarity. For instance, when Jesus goes to the cross we are accustomed to thinking about God’s love for us in sending so stupendous a gift, or about Jesus’ love for us in that he bore our guilt and punishment in his own body on the tree. Well and good. But the Scriptures also insist that the exaltation of Christ is the product of the Father’s commitment that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father (John 5:23; cf. John 12:23). When Jesus goes to the cross, in part he is acting out of sheer loving obedience to his Father (John 14:31; cf. 15:9-11). God’s awesome plan of redemption is to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:3-14). This must shape our understanding of God—and thus our prayer lives and our priorities.

That is also why, in the second place, God will not permit his people to be com- fortable in their sin. The law was given so that the one who obeys it will “live by” it (20:11, 21, 25; cf. Lev. 18:5)—in this context this means that the one who obeys the Law will prosper. When the people disobey and hunger to be “like the peoples of the world,” God vows that what they have in mind “will never happen” (20:32). Instead, God will protect his name, invoke “the bond of the covenant” (20:37) and pour out his wrath (20:33) so that the people will not “live by” the evil statutes they choose: they will not prosper. Years of God’s forbearance (whether then or now) must ultimately issue either in transformation or in judgment.

 

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 — July 1

JULY 1 — Joshua 3; Psalms 126—128; Isaiah 63; Matthew 11

WE SHOULD NOT IGNORE THE OBVIOUS: in this passage (Matt. 11:2-19) John the Baptist is discouraged.

He is discouraged because Jesus is failing to meet his expectations. John has announced someone who would not only baptize people with the Holy Spirit (3:11), but who would come in stern judgment, separating wheat and chaff and burning up the latter (3:12). Yet here is Jesus, preaching to vast crowds, training his own followers, performing miracles—but not obviously imposing judgment on the wicked. John the Baptist languishes in prison for the fiery way he denounced Herod’s illicit marriage. Why hasn’t Jesus denounced Herod and then, utilizing his astonishing power, imposed judgment?

Jesus answers (Matt. 11:4-6) by describing his ministry in terms of two crucial passages from Isaiah—35:5-6 and 61:1-2. But John the Baptist certainly knew the Isaiah scroll very well. Elsewhere he himself quotes from it (3:3, quoting Isa. 40:3). So if Jesus is going to refer to these passages (John might well ask himself), why doesn’t he also mention the judgment theme in the same contexts? After all, Isaiah 35:5-6 mentions not only the lame leaping and the like, but “divine retribution” as well. Isaiah 61 talks about preaching good news to the poor, but it also anticipates “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2; see meditation for June 29). Why does Jesus mention the blessings without the judgments?

It is as if Jesus is saying, in effect, “John, look closely: the promised blessings of the kingdom are dawning. What I am doing fulfills Scripture exactly. If the judgment has not yet dawned, it will come, but not yet. Right now, focus on the good that is being done, and let it confirm that I am who I say I am.”

Jesus takes three more steps to defend John, of which I briefly mention two. (a) He warns those who were listening in on this conversation not to suppose for a moment that John is really some fickle reed, swayed by the winds of harsh circumstances, and still less someone interested in feathering his nest (11:7-8). Far from it: (b) John’s role in redemptive history makes him the one who announces the coming of the Sovereign, pointing him out, in fulfillment of a Malachi prophecy (11:10). That is what makes John the Baptist the greatest man born of woman up to that point—greater than Abraham or David or Isaiah—for he actually announces Christ and points him out explicitly. That is why the least in the kingdom, this side of the cross, is greater still (11:11): you and I point out who the Messiah is with even more immediacy and explicitness. That is where our greatness lies.

 

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 — June 30

JUNE 30 — Joshua 2; Psalms 123—125; Isaiah 62; Matthew 10

MUCH OF THE POETRY OF ISAIAH 62 picks up the circumstances of earthly Zion. But the language is so exalted and the promises so sweeping it soon becomes clear that much more than the restoration of empirical Jerusalem after the exile is in view.

At the end of chapter 61 Isaiah delights in the triumph of the Servant-Messiah who transforms the people of God. Here Isaiah still speaks, and then increasingly in this chapter it is the Sovereign Lord who speaks. Initially Isaiah says that, in light of the glorious promises for Zion, he “will not keep silent” until Zion’s peace and glory are established. This means more than that Isaiah will continue in faithful proclamation. Intrinsic to the task of the “watchmen” posted on the walls of Jerusalem (62:6) is the warning of judgment to come where there is no repentance, or where there is thoughtless lapse into sin (cf. Ezek. 33). But if there is horizontal proclamation—i.e., preaching to the people—there is also vertical intercession: “You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (62:6-7). Like Daniel interceding with God in light of the promises God himself had made (Dan. 9), Isaiah wants faithful men and women to pray to God, giving him no rest till all his glorious promises regarding Zion are fulfilled. Here, then, is a call for fervent and persistent intercession: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

This Zion will be “called by a new name” (62:2, 12); it will have a new identity. It will no longer be called “Deserted” and “Desolate”; now it will be called “My Delight Is in Her” and “Married” (62:4)—picking up the massive typology found so often in the Old Testament: the Sovereign Lord is the husband; the covenant people, here represented by Zion, is the bride (cf. 62:5). Verse 12 rolls out more names: “the Holy People,” “the Redeemed of the LORD” (which reminds us again how they have been transformed), “Sought After,” “the City No Longer Deserted.” This is far more than empirical Jerusalem after the exile. This is the covenant people themselves, and this community raises a banner “for the nations” (62:10). This is the anticipation of “the Jerusalem that is above” (Gal. 4:26-27, where Isaiah is quoted), of “Mount Zion,” “the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22), of “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem,” “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).

 

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 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.