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.

Daily Bible Reading — April 3

APRIL 3 — Leviticus 6; Psalms 5—6; Proverbs 21; Colossians 4

HERE I SHALL FOCUS ON THREE of the several themes that surface in Proverbs 21:

(a) “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (21:3). The prophets say something similar (e.g., Hosea 6:6), and so does the LORD Jesus (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Every generation must remember that integrity and righteousness are more important than religious ritual. It should come as no surprise that religious people may sometimes cheat on their income tax, abuse their children, covet their neighbor’s car, and love nothing so much as personal plea- sure. Their religion may actually serve as a cloak to cover their sin with a veneer of respectability. This chapter includes another relevant proverb: “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable—how much more so when brought with evil intent!” (21:27). The religious observance of wicked people is simply detestable in God’s sight; it is unimaginably revolting to him when the wicked person is less a wicked dupe than a self-conscious charlatan using his religion to deceive people. Implicitly, of course, this means that the religion of the Bible is more about character than choirs, more about real transformation than religious tradition, more about God and the Gospel than about leadership and glitz.

(b) Poverty may come about because of abuse and oppression by the strong and powerful. But it may also come about because of a character flaw such as laziness or love of self-indulgence. So it is in this chapter: “He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich” (21:17). “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (21:20). “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work” (21:25). “All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing” (21:26). By contrast, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (21:5). The wise will not pursue pleasure as one of the great goals of life, but will prove provident, generous, hardworking, faithful, and just—precisely the kind of qualities that make good employers and good employees.

(c) “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (21:4). “The proud and arrogant man—‘Mocker’ is his name; he behaves with over-weening pride” (21:24). The heart of all wickedness is this vaulting self-focus that deludes itself into thinking we are self-determining, such that God himself can never be more than an accessory. Small wonder that gospel transformation begins with repentance.

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 2

APRIL 2 — Leviticus 5; Psalms 3—4; Proverbs 20; Colossians 3

THE CONTRASTS IN COLOSSIANS 3 are so stark they are haunting. On the one hand, the sins in 3:5-9 are foul: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lying. Greed is labeled “idolatry” (3:5). One can see why. In effect, one worships what one most desires. If greed lies at the heart of our deepest desires, then acquisitiveness has become our god, and we are idolaters.

On the other hand, the virtues briefly spelled out in 3:12-17 have always been associated with genuine Christian character. Here I wish to focus on the last two verses: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:16-17).

(1) The “word of Christ” is not exactly the Scriptures. It is the Gospel—but the primary access we have to that Gospel is the Scriptures. The expression “word of Christ” is sufficiently flexible that it can mean either the word that Christ taught or the word about Christ. Insofar as the Gospel itself was both proclaimed by Jesus Christ and so embodied in his person and ministry that it is also what the apostles say about him, “the word of Christ” embraces both meanings.

(2) This is what is to dwell in us richly. It is to fill our memories, occupy our horizons, constitute our priorities. We are so to reflect on it, as we turn it over in our minds and learn how it applies in every area of our lives, that, far from occupying a little religious corner of our experience, it will dwell in us richly.

(3) This must take place not only in the privacy of personal study and reflec- tion but also in our mutual instruction and admonition. Whatever teaching takes place within the local church, it must be full of the Gospel and its rich, life- transforming implications and applications.

(4) Over against all that is foul and all that is idolatrous, Christians are to be characterized by gratitude. We have been called to peace, the apostle says. “And be thankful” (3:15). The singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs is to be done “with gratitude in your hearts to God” (3:16). Indeed, the apostle con- cludes, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17, italics added).

 

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.