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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.

Daily Bible Reading — April 19

APRIL 19 — Leviticus 23; Psalm 30; Ecclesiastes 6; 2 Timothy 2

IN ECCLESIASTES 5:13—6:12, the Teacher enlarges upon two or three grievous evils “under the sun.” Here we focus on those described in Ecclesiastes 6.

One of life’s immense frustrations involves people who receive from God “wealth, possessions and honor” (6:2) such that they lack nothing their heart desires—yet they lack the ability to enjoy these things. The power to enjoy things (first introduced in 5:19) is itself a great gift from God. To have so many other gifts and not this one is immensely troubling. The Teacher does not spell out what exactly has foreclosed on the ability to enjoy all the other gifts. It might be a business failure (5:13-15). But it might be chronic illness, or war, or the evil manipulation of someone more powerful, or even some form of insanity. One might die prematurely, and a “stranger” will enjoy all the things one has accumulated (6:2). Or perhaps a person will die not only unfulfilled and barely noticed, but unlamented (“not receiv[ing] proper burial,” 6:3). Qoheleth insists that “a stillborn child is better off than he” (6:3). Such a child “comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded” (6:4). But even if someone should live ten thousand years and yet never enjoy all the prosperity God has gra- ciously given him (6:6), his life is meaningless. And in the end he goes to the same place as the stillborn child (6:6).

The chapter ends with a series of blistering rhetorical questions, all designed to substantiate the thesis that, under the sun, everything is “utterly meaningless” (1:2). We work to eat, and eating gives us the strength to go on working: what is the point? (6:7). But if someone replies that a person may not only work and eat, but become a “wise man” (6:8), is it all that clear that the wise are better off than fools? After all, much wisdom may simply bring much frustration and grief, as Qoheleth has already pointed out (1:18). Moreover, isn’t it better to be satisfied with the material world—with what one can touch and hear and see and feel, with “what the eye sees”—than to pursue “the roving of the appetite,” i.e., all the things hidden from view that we hanker after? For this, too, “is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (6:9).

Is this too wretchedly pessimistic to be realistic? But for those who are “under the sun” (6:12) and nothing more, what else is there? We talk too much and know too little (6:11-12). God help us! We need a deliverer from outside our myopic horizons.

 

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 — April 8

APRIL 8 Leviticus 11—12; Psalms 13—14; Proverbs 26; 1 Thessalonians 5

FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE are often called the Pauline triad. They crop up again and again in Paul’s correspondence, in various combinations and structures of thought. Doubtless the best-known passage is 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” It may be that the reason love is the greatest of these three cardinal Christian virtues is that love is the only one that God exercises. Elsewhere the Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8); it never says that God is faith or that God is hope.

In the epistle before us, the Pauline triad first crops up in chapter 1: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). Sometimes only two elements of the triad are present: e.g., “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3). Sometimes the three are linked in particular ways: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints—the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you” (Col. 1:3-6). Although love may be “the greatest” of the three, in this passage hope is the foundation or even the motivation of faith and love—though that arrangement is far from invariable (e.g., Eph. 1:15, 18).

If the Pauline triad occurs at the beginning of 1 Thessalonians, so it recurs at the end: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess. 5:8, italics added). These variations suggest that faith, hope, and love were not, for Paul nor for the early Christians, a cluster of tired words always deployed in some bor- ing formula. Rather, they were the quintessential Christian virtues that they thought about and pursued, so that their reflections and experience prompted them to describe these virtues in many different ways. Here we find the metaphor of the armor of God, but not with the associations found in Ephesians 6:10-17— once again demonstrating that these were fresh and living forms of speech, not clichés emptied of all power except comforting repetition.

 

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 — April 7

APRIL 7 — Leviticus 10; Psalms 11—12; Proverbs 25; 1 Thessalonians 4

SOMETIMES THE BIBLE PROVIDES A GLIMPSE of the means God graciously used to produce the Bible. For instance, Luke 1:1-4 lays out some of the research the third evangelist did. Here in the opening lines of Proverbs 25, we catch another glimpse: “These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah” (25:1)—who of course lived two centuries after Solomon. Apparently some individual proverbs were passed down and finally collected by some scholars who worked during Hezekiah’s administration. That means that the entire book of Proverbs, which coalesces several collections, is even later. And at every step God was guiding the developments.

Sometimes the book of Proverbs serves as a quarry for quotations in the New Testament. We have already come upon a few instances (e.g., 3:11-12 quoted in Heb. 12:5-6—see meditation for March 16). Here there are two more: 25:7, adapted by the Lord Jesus in Luke 14:7-10; and 25:22, quoted by Paul in Romans 12:20.

But the theme on which I wish to focus attention today is self-restraint or self-control, which keeps resurfacing in this chapter. “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men” (25:6). The scramble for the top is ugly self-promotion. Far better to be self-restrained and develop integrity. Someone may yet say, “Come up higher.”

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone” (25:15)—far different from the bluster and splutter of the uncontrolled. Self-control and tact often achieve what a blunderbuss merely destroys. Self-control should also inform the degree to which you lean on others (25:17).

“If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit” (25:16). This proverb has application to more foods than honey, and to more plea- sures than food. Lack of self-control, far from multiplying pleasure, brings vomit and self-loathing. Another “honey” proverb tweaks the thought a little. “It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor” (25:27). The same sense of nauseating disgust that accompanies eating too much honey accompanies self-promotion. Others feel as much revulsion, the proverb tells us, in the one case as in the other.

And the opposite of self-restraint? “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give” (25:14). “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (25:28). The fruit of the Spirit includes self-control (Gal. 5:23; 1 Thess. 5:6; 2 Tim. 1:7).

 

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 — April 4

APRIL 4 — Leviticus 7; Psalms 7—8; Proverbs 22; 1 Thessalonians 1

SEVERAL OBSERVATIONS ON Proverbs 22:

(1) A break occurs after 22:16, with a new heading. We now leave behind the proverbs of Solomon and begin the “Sayings of the Wise.” These must have been collected and perhaps circulated independently of the next section, “Further Sayings of the Wise” (24:23-34), which is then followed by more of Solomon’s proverbs (25:1ff.). Several cultures in the ancient Near East cherished and collected proverbs, and of course this fostered the rise of groups of “wise men” whose best utterances were preserved for posterity.

(2) The proverb “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (22:6) is so well known that it cries out for comment. Recall that a proverb is neither case law nor unqualified promise (review meditation for March 23). When children go wrong, very often the careful observer can spot familial reasons that have contributed to the rebellion. But this is not always the case. Sometimes young people from evidently wonderful families kick the traces. Some return years later; some never do. Good families may produce prodigal sons. This proverb must not be treated as if it were a promise that fails periodically. Rather, it is a proverb: it tells how God has structured reality, and what we should do to conform to it. This is the principle of how families work; it includes no footnotes and mentions no exceptions.

(3) Proverbs 22:29 provides an instance of wisdom that is simply technical skill (see meditation for March 14).

(4) Once more it is worth reflecting on how many proverbs focus on social dynamics of one sort or another and on the desirability of peace, self-control, and restrained speech. “Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended” (22:10). “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (22:24-25).

(5) Several verses in this chapter encourage the reader to remember that biblical proverbs are more than good common sense of a secular sort, with a little piety thrown in. They are deeply grounded in devotion to the living God and to all the revelation he has given. Sometimes the way of framing a proverb makes this reality sing. “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all” (22:2). The wise saying is grounded in the doctrine of creation. “The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the LORD’s wrath will fall into it” (22:14). The sexual sin everywhere condemned in this book is now seen as evidence of God’s sovereign wrath.

 

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.