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.

Daily Bible Reading — March 14

MARCH 14 — Exodus 25; John 4; Proverbs 1; 2 Corinthians 13

BEFORE EMBARKING ON PROVERBS 1, I must say a little about “wisdom” in the Old Testament. For us, wisdom means something like sagacity. The wise person is insightful, perceptive, even shrewd, able to apply knowledge to diverse people and circumstances. One can understand why T. S. Eliot, in one of his more prescient anticipations of the digital age, asked where wisdom is now that it has been lost in knowledge, and where knowledge is now that it has been lost in information.

But wisdom in the Old Testament, though its meaning sometimes overlaps with modern English use, has a flavor all its own. At one level, it is a broad concept that embraces the structure of everything in God’s universe, both substance and relationships, even before anything exists (cf. 8:22). The glory of God is manifested in such wisdom; it may even be manifested by his resolve to hide such wisdom (25:2). Yet at another level, wisdom in the Old Testament is simply a skill of one kind or another. (1) It may be the skill to survive, which is why ants and lizards are said to be extremely wise (30:24-28). (2) It is the skill to get along with people, what we call “social skills”—how to get along with friends, employers, rulers, spouse, and above all with God. Intuitively one glimpses how this practi- cal “wisdom” or skill is related to the fundamental wisdom, i.e., to how things really are in God’s universe. This use of “wisdom” is strikingly common in Proverbs. (3) Wisdom may refer to some technical skill or other (e.g., Ex. 28:3). In today’s categories, one might have the “wisdom” to run a lathe or program a computer or sew a fine garment. One of these practical skills, one that overlaps with the second entry, is administrative skill, administrative wisdom. This includes judicial insight. It involves not only the mechanics of administration, but being able to listen attentively and penetrate to the heart of a matter (e.g., Deut. 1:15). This, of course, was the “wisdom” for which Solomon prayed (1 Kings 3); it is the wisdom that characterizes the Messiah (Isa. 11:2).

The proverbs of this book, then, are set out “for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair” (1:2-3). The opposite of wisdom is therefore not only “folly” in some intellectual sense, but “folly” understood to be little short of sin. So the “son” of this chapter is exhorted to follow the instruction of Mum and Dad (1:8), or more generally, to pursue wisdom (1:20ff.); the alternative is to be enticed by sinners into some other path (1:10ff.).

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.

Notes on Leviticus 2 & 3 (Reposted from 3/31/14)

Today we continue look at the chapters from Leviticus found in our Bible Reading Plan. Yesterday, we looked at the burnt offering described in Leviticus 1. Today, we look at two chapters because there are two in the plan, the grain offering (chapter 2) and the peace offering (chapter 3).

Chapter 2
The grain offering in chapter 2 follows the burnt offering in chapter 1. The burnt offering laid the foundation for the other offerings because it most directly represents atonement. The burnt offering was a blood sacrifice of a male animal without any defects because it points to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who is perfect. In contrast, the grain offering does not involve blood and death. This is because the grain offering is not about atonement, but the response of the one who has been atoned for. This order is important, because we can not offer anything acceptable to God until we have been atoned for by Jesus Christ. But, once we are atoned for, we gladly offer up ourselves to God.

The grain offering was an offering of fine flour mixed with oil and frankincense. The flour represents the fruit of the life of the worshipper. The oil signifies the Holy Spirit who sets the flour apart for God. The frankincense signifies that our offering has a pleasing aroma to God.

As with the burnt offering, worshippers could give based on their economic status. The wealthy had ovens, so they could bake cakes or wafers. The middle class could prepare their offerings in griddles. The poor could fry their offerings in pans. In each case, the offering was pleasing to God if it was offered up in faith based on the atonement provided for in the burnt offering.

Instructions were given not to use leaven (like yeast) because leaven represents sin and corruption (v. 11). However, salt was always to be used because of its preservative nature (v. 13) just as the Holy Spirit preserves us.

The sweet fragrance of the frankincense may be what Paul was referring to in Philippians 4:18: “18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”

As you reflect on the grain offering, reflect on Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

Chapter 3
The Peace Offering in chapter 3 has some similarities with the burnt offering. In both cases, the animal was to be without defect. The worshipper laid a hand on the head of the animal, an act representing faith. Finally, the animal was offered up on the altar.

There are some differences as well. In the peace offering the animal could be male or female. This is because the peace offering focusses on the effects of atonement (peace with God) rather than the object of atonement (Jesus death on the cross). Also, while in the burnt offering, the entire animal was burned to ashes to signify the complete judgment in atonement, in the peace offering, only the rich, fatty parts of the animal were burned in smoke, while the other parts of the animal were eaten. The fatty parts symbolize the heart and inner man of the worshipper. It is offered up to God. But, the other parts were eaten to represent fellowship with God just as we often fellowship with each other over a meal.

Finally, these same fatty parts of the animal and the blood were not to be eaten. This instruction was not only for the altar, but at home as well. By having this instruction, the Israelites were reminded every time they cooked an animal about atonement (the blood) and whole devotion to God (the fat) leading to peace.

As you reflect on the peace offering, reflect also on Romans 5:1-2. “1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”

Notes on Leviticus 1 (Reposted from 3/30/14)

This year you are encouraged to develop the habit of reading through the whole of Bible. When Jesus spoke to his listeners, he asked, “Have you not read?” and, “Have you not heard?” It seems that he expected all of the Scriptures to be read by his people. To help you build this habit, a Bible reading plan has been made available based on the one prepared by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor in the 19th Century.

Many of you have been reading the passages. In the case of Genesis and Exodus, you may have found those passages interesting and even exciting at times. But, now the schedule has led us to Leviticus. And, this is where some people run into difficulty. There is talk of blood and animal sacrifice, ceremonies and rituals. You might wonder if we really need to read these chapters on this side of the cross. And yet, the Apostle Paul writes that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

I believe that Leviticus is full of pictures of the Gospel. I am hoping to share thoughts on the chapters as we read through together in hopes that it will edify you.

Chapter 1
The first several chapters of Leviticus describe the various sacrifices. The first sacrifice described is the Burnt Offering. This offering is described first because the principle of atonement is given which makes the foundation for the other sacrifices.

Kinds of animals
There are three kinds of animals that can be used: from the herd (like oxen), from the flock (like sheep and goats), and birds (turtledoves or pigeons). A rich person might have brought an ox, a middle person might have brought a lamb, and a poor person (like Jesus’ father Joseph) might have brought a turtledove, but they all would have had their offering accepted.

Characteristics of the animals
In the cases of the offerings from the herd or flock, the animal would need to have been male and without any imperfections. That is because, as representatives of Christ in atonement, they needed to reflect those attributes.

Action of the worshipper
The person making the offering would put their hand on the head of the sacrifice. In doing this, the sins of the worshipper were transferred to the animal, the substitute. This action points to faith in Jesus Christ. When we trust Jesus to be our Substitute, we are placing our hand upon his head and our sins are transferred to him. We are no longer guilty because those sins are laid upon Jesus by faith. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Results of the sacrifice
After the sins of the worshipper were transferred to the animal, the animal was killed and cut up. His blood would be collected to make atonement on the altar and for the worshipper. The violence done to the animal demonstrates the horrors of the judgment that sinners deserve. But, instead of coming to the worshipper, the animal receives the punishment. Finally, the animal is completely burned to ash. This shows that judgement has been carried out in full. There is none left for the worshipper. In the same way, when we have faith in Jesus to be our Substitute, we see by faith that all of the judgment that we deserved has been completely carried out on Jesus. There is none left for us. We are completely forgiven. Amazing grace!

Today’s post is fairly long because it has an introduction and it contains foundational points. In the following posts, I intend to keep them shorter. I hope you will come back and I hope you will share this with others by email or by Facebook. God bless you!

Bible Reading — January 20

JANUARY 20 — Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20

IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, Lord Acton wrote that all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The founding fathers of the American Republic would not have disagreed. That is one of the reasons why they constructed a government with checks and balances—they did not want any one branch to have too much power, because they knew that sooner or later it would be corrupted. That is also a primary reason why they wanted constitutionally mandated democratic voting. It was not because they trusted the wisdom of people as a collective—their writings show that they were very nervous about giving too much power to popular vote. But they wanted a mechanism for voting people out of office, replacing them with others. That way, no one in power could unceasingly accumulate power: sooner or later the people could turf them out, and without bloodshed.

Jesus understands the nature of power in all governmental hierarchy: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” (Matt. 20:25). Sad to say, ecclesiastical power can be equally corrupting. That is why Jesus sets out a radically different paradigm: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (20:26-27).

It is of vital importance to the health of the church that we understand this passage aright. Three reflections may focus its meaning.

First, the ultimate model in this respect is the Lord Jesus himself, who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). This is not only a great text about the substitutionary nature of the atonement Jesus achieved when he died on the cross (cf. 20:17-19), but powerful insistence that the life and death of Jesus are to constitute the measure of Christian leadership.

Second, becoming a slave of all most emphatically does not mean that leaders must become servile, stupid, ignorant, or merely nice—any more than Jesus’ leadership and sacrifice were characterized by such incompetence.

Third, what it does mean is that Christian leadership is profoundly self-denying for the sake of others, like Christ’s ultimate example of self-denial for the sake of others. So the church must not elevate people to places of leadership who have many of the gifts necessary to high office, but who lack this one. To lead or teach, for example, you must have the gift of leadership or teaching (Rom. 12:6-8). But you must also be profoundly committed to principled self-denial for the sake of brothers and sisters in Christ, or you are disqualified.

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 1 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 1.Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.

Bible Reading — January 19

JANUARY 19 — Genesis 20; Matthew 19; Nehemiah 9; Acts 19

AFTER JESUS’ INTERVIEW with the rich young man, he says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:23-24). The disciples, we are told, “were greatly astonished.” They exclaimed, “Who then can be saved?” (19:25).

Their question betrays a great deal. It is as if the disciples thought that if anyone could be saved, it would surely be the kind of moral, upright, and frankly wealthy young man who had just turned away from Jesus in some sadness. If even he could not be saved, then who in the world could be? Perhaps they thought that his wealth showed him to be blessed by God, while his publicly upright character confirmed their judgment.

Thus they betray how poorly they understood Jesus’ pronouncement. His point was that wealth easily becomes a surrogate god. It is extraordinarily difficult for a person who is attached to riches, not least riches that he or she has accumulated and therefore feels proud about, to approach God as a child might approach (19:13-15), and simply ask for help and receive grace. The disciples look on these things precisely the wrong way. Possessions are blessings, they reason, and come from God. If a person enjoys possessions, those blessings must find their origin in God. So, surely a person with many blessings has a greater likelihood of being saved than others who can boast of fewer blessings.

Jesus does not argue the toss. If at this point he were to talk about the greater or lesser likelihood of someone being saved, he would be supporting the legitimacy of their question, which is in fact singularly ill conceived. That is simply not the way to look at the matter. Take the group that the disciples think are clos- est to the kingdom: Shall they be saved? “With man this is impossible,” Jesus insists (19:26). And that means, of course, that from the disciple’s perspective, if the most fortunate can’t get in, then no one can get in. That’s the point: “With man this is impossible.”

Yet this impossibility can be reversed, for we serve a God who does many things that we humans cannot possibly do. Who shall be saved? “With God all things are possible” (19:26). That is where our hope lies: with a God who takes the most unlikely subjects, rich and poor alike, and writes his law on their hearts. Apart from God’s intervening grace, there is no hope for any of us.

This reading is from For the Love of God, vol 1 by D.A. Carson. You can download the entire book as a free PDF here: For the Love of God, Vol 1.Alternatively, you can pick up a hard copy at the church or at your favorite book retailer.