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Deut. 20; Psalm 107; Isaiah 47; Revelation 17

Jun 15, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 20; Psalm 107; Isaiah 47; Revelation 17

HISTORICALLY, REVIVAL REFERRED TO a time of God-sent blessing beyond the ordinary. Ministers of the Word went about their work, praying, preaching, catechizing, counseling, whether in times of persecution, or in times of relative quiet and steady growth. But if the Lord God visited his people with revival, it was immediately evident in an extraordinary sense of the presence of God, in deep-seated repentance and a renewed passion for holiness, and ultimately in the sound and indisputable conversion of many people. It could be relatively disciplined, or it might be mixed with the spurious.

Although “revival” still has this sense in some circles, in others it refers to a meeting or series of meetings where preachers speak on personal holiness or give evangelistic messages. It is assumed that if the preacher is gifted there will be obvious fruit. In some circles in the southern part of the United States, one hears expressions like “holding a revival” or “preaching a revival.” It would aid clarity of thought if instead they spoke of “holding a Bible conference” or “preaching an evangelistic series.”

Psalm 107 lists a diverse array of circumstances in which people find themselves in great danger or under horrible oppression, usually because of their own sin. In each case, God comes to the rescue. Those who wandered in desert wastelands cried to the Lord, and were delivered from their thirst and hunger (Ps. 107:4-9). Others sat in chains, prisoners, “for they had rebelled against the words of God” (Ps. 107:11), and the Lord freed them (Ps. 107:13-14). Still others became so corroded by their folly that they loathed life. But when they cried to the Lord, “he sent forth his word and healed them” (Ps. 107:20). Others found themselves in mortal peril on the seas, and here, too, the Lord responded to their cries and saved them (Ps. 107:23-32). Indeed, this God humbles the haughty, and for the sake of the needy and afflicted he turns the desert into fertile fields (Ps. 107:33-42).

Lest we misunderstand the psalmist’s point, he makes it clear for us in two ways. First, in most of the sections, when he describes those who have been saved, he prescribes, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men” (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31). Second, the opening of the psalm reminds us that God is good, and his love endures forever (Ps. 107:1), while the closing insists, “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD” (Ps. 107:43). This, and this alone, is the ultimate source of God’s blessings — not the least being revival. And the last verse goes further, and provides the sanction for studying revivals among the blessings of God.

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Deut. 19; Psalm 106; Isaiah 46; Revelation 16

Jun 14, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 19; Psalm 106; Isaiah 46; Revelation 16

THE JUSTICE ENVISAGED IN Deuteronomy 19 seems to stand a considerable distance from the views that prevail in Western nations today.

With part of this text’s emphasis, most of us will find ourselves in substantial sympathy: the courts must not convict a person on meager evidence. In the days before powerful forensic tools, this almost always meant that multiple witnesses should be required (Deut. 19:15). Today the kind of evidence thought to be sufficient has expanded: fingerprints, blood-typing, and so forth. Most of us recognize that this is a good thing. But enough reports have circulated of evidence that has been tampered with that the concern of our text is scarcely out of date. Procedures and policies must be put in place that make it difficult to corrupt the court or convict an innocent person.

But the rest of the chapter (Deut. 19:16-21) seems, at first, somewhat alien to us, for three reasons. (1) If careful judges determine that some witness has perjured himself, then the judges are to impose on that person the penalty that would have been imposed on the defendant wrongfully charged: you are to “do to him as he intended to do to his brother” (Deut. 19:19). (2) The aim is “to purge the evil from among you” (Deut. 19:20). (3) Once again, the lex talionis (the “eye for an eye” statute) is repeated (Deut. 19:21; cf. Ex. 21:24, and the meditation for March 11).

All three points are looked at very differently in Western courts. (1) Punishment for malicious perjury is usually negligible. But this means there is little official effort to fan the flame of social passion for public justice. You lie if you can get away with it; the shame is only in getting caught. (2) Our penal theorists think incarceration serves to make society a safer place, or provides a venue for reform (therapeutic or otherwise), or ensures that an offender “pays his debt to society.” So much effort goes into analyzing the social conditions that play a contributing role in shaping a criminal that everywhere there is widespread reluctance to speak of the evil of a person or an act. Perhaps that is why revenge movies have to depict really astoundingly horrendous cruelty in one-dimensional monsters before the revenge can be justified. The Bible’s stance is truly radical (i.e., it goes to the radix, the root): judicially, the courts must purge out the evil among you. (3) We incarcerate; we rarely think about the justice of making a punishment “fit” the crime. But that was one of the functions of the lex talionis.

When one focuses on justice and personal accountability, it is our own judicial and penal system that seems increasingly misguided and alien.

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Deut. 18; Psalm 105; Isaiah 45; Revelation 15

Jun 13, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 18; Psalm 105; Isaiah 45; Revelation 15

THE PROPHECY OF THE COMING of a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18) must first of all be understood within its own context. Four observations bring this passage to sharp focus.

First, the preceding verses (Deut. 18:9-13) condemn the religious practices of the nations the Israelites are displacing, especially those religious practices used for guidance: divination, sorcery, interpretation of omens, witchcraft, casting of spells, spiritism, and necromancy. These “detestable practices” (Deut. 18:12) constitute part of the reason why these nations were driven out — a lesson many in the West have not learned, to our great danger. Such practices implicitly deny God’s sovereignty, and encourage people to rely for their safety and well-being on either superstitious nonsense or demonic power. In the transition verse (Deut. 18:14), Moses contrasts the Israelites: “But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.” Far from it: as the Lord gave his word through the prophet Moses, so after Moses’ death God will raise up a prophet like Moses. “You must listen to him” (Deut. 18:15). God’s people are to be led by the word of God faithfully delivered by his prophets, not by religious superstition.

Second, that raises the question as to who is a true prophet (Deut. 18:20-22), a theme Moses had already discussed (Deut. 13; see the June 9 meditation) but which is here briefly reintroduced. For if people will know the Word of God through God’s prophets, it is important to reiterate some of the criteria by which one may distinguish true prophets from false.

Third, Moses reminds the Israelites of the essentially mediatorial role of the prophet (Deut. 18:16-17). Of course, this is true at a fairly trite level: genuine prophets reveal words from God that would otherwise be unknown, and thus mediate between God and people. But Moses refers to something more profound. When God displayed himself at Sinai, the people were so terrified that they knew they dared not approach this holy God: they would be destroyed (Ex. 20:18-19). The people wanted Moses to be the mediator of the revelation from God. God praises them for this judgment, this right-minded fear of God (Deut. 18:17). In the same way, God will raise up another prophet who will exercise the same mediating function.

Fourth, at some level this promise was fulfilled in every genuine prophet God sent. But the language of this promise is so generous it is difficult not to see that some special prophet is finally in view: he will not only tell everything that God commands him, but if anyone does not listen to God’s words spoken in God’s name, God himself will hold him to account. Meditate not only on Acts 3:22-23; 7:37, but also on John 5:16-30.

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Deut. 17; Psalm 104; Isaiah 44; Revelation 14

Jun 12, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 17; Psalm 104; Isaiah 44; Revelation 14

MOSES ENVISAGES A TIME when the Israelite nation will choose a king (Deut. 17:14-20). He could not know that centuries later, when the Israelites would first ask for a king, they would do so for all the wrong motives — primarily so that they could be like the pagan nations around them. The result was Saul. But that is another story.

If the people are to have a king, what sort of king should he be? (1) He must be the Lord’s own choice (Deut. 17:15). (2) He must be an Israelite, drawn “from among your own brothers” (Deut. 17:15), not some foreigner. (3) He must not acquire for himself great numbers of horses, i.e., amass great personal wealth and military might, and especially not if it means some sort of alliance with a power such as Egypt (Deut. 17:16). (4) He must not take many wives (Deut. 17:17). The issue was not simply polygamy. In the ancient Near East, the more powerful the king the more wives he had. This prohibition is therefore simultaneously a limit on the king’s power, and a warning that many wives will likely lead his heart astray (Deut. 17:17). This is not because wives are intrinsically evil; rather, a king on the hunt for many wives is likely to marry princesses and nobility from surrounding countries, and they will bring their paganism with them. Within that framework, the king’s heart will be led astray. That is exactly what happened to Solomon. (5) Upon accession to the throne, the first thing the king must do is write out for himself, in Hebrew, a copy of “this law” — whether the book of Deuteronomy or the entire Pentateuch. Then he is to read it every day for the rest of his life (Deut. 17:18-20). The multiple purposes of this task are explicit: that he may revere the Lord his God, carefully follow all his words, and in consequence not consider himself better than his fellow citizens, and not turn aside from the law. The result will be a long-lasting dynasty.

It is not difficult to imagine how the entire history of Israel would have been radically different if these five criteria had been adopted by each king who came to the throne of David. It would be almost a millennium and a half before there would arise in Israel a king who would be the Lord’s chosen servant, someone “made like his brothers in every way” (Heb. 2:17), a mere craftsman without wealth or power, a man not seduced by beauty or power or paganism (despite the devil’s most virulent assaults), a man steeped in the Scriptures from his youth and who carefully followed all the words of God. How we need that king!

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Deut. 16; Psalm 103; Isaiah 43; Revelation 13

Jun 11, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 16; Psalm 103; Isaiah 43; Revelation 13

IT IS DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE a lovelier psalm than Psalm 103. When our children were growing up, the price they “paid” for their first leather-bound Bibles was memorizing Psalm 103. Across the centuries, countless believers have turned to these lines to find their spirits lifted, a renewed commitment to praise and gratitude, and incentive to prayer, a restoration of a God-centered worldview. This psalm could easily claim our meditations for the rest of the month, for the rest of the year. Instead, we focus on three of its features.

(1) The psalm is bracketed by exhortations to praise. At the front end, David exhorts himself, and, by his example, his readers: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name” (Ps. 103:1). Implicitly David recognizes that it is distressingly easy to preserve the externals of praise, with nothing erupting from within the heart of God’s image-bearers. This will not do: “all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” By the end of the psalm, however honest and profound this individual’s worship, the framework for praising such a God is too small, for after all, God’s kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19): “Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the LORD, all his works, everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul” (Ps. 103:20-22). Now the psalmist’s praise is one with the praise of heaven, with the praise of the entire created order.

(2) When David starts to enumerate “all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2), he begins with the forgiveness of sins (Ps. 103:3). Here is a man who understands what is of greatest importance. If we have everything but God’s forgiveness, we have nothing of worth; if we have God’s forgiveness, everything else of value is also promised (cf. Rom. 8:32).

(3) David soon moves from the blessings he enjoys as an individual believer to the Lord’s public justice (Ps. 103:6), to his gracious self-disclosure to Moses and the Israelites (Ps. 103:7-18). Here he stays the longest time, turning over and over in his mind the greatest blessings the Lord has granted to his people. Above all, he focuses once again on the sheer privilege of having sins forgiven, removed, forgotten. All of this, David perceives, stems from the character of God. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). He deals with our sin — but compassionately, fully bearing in mind our weak frames. We may be creatures of time, but “from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17).

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Deut. 15; Psalm 102; Isaiah 42; Revelation 12

Jun 10, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 15; Psalm 102; Isaiah 42; Revelation 12

ONE OF THE STRIKING features of many passages in Deuteronomy that describe what life should be like once the people enter the Promised Land is a tension between what is held out as the ideal and what will in fact prove the reality.

Thus, on the one hand, the people are told that “there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today” (Deut. 15:4-5). On the other hand, the same chapter frankly acknowledges, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:11).

The former passage, that “there should be no poor among you,” is grounded in two things: the sheer abundance of the land (a sign of covenantal blessing), and the civil laws God wants imposed so as to avoid any form of the wretched “poverty trap.” The latter include the canceling of debts every seven years — a shocking proposal to our ears (Deut. 15:1-11). There is even a warning about harboring the “wicked thought,” once the seventh year was impending, of planning stinginess (Deut. 15:8-10).

The extent to which these idealistic statutes were ever enacted is disputed. There is very little evidence that they became widely observed public law in the Promised Land. Thus the second passage, that “there will always be poor people in the land,” is inevitable. It reflects the grim reality that no economic system can guarantee the abolition of poverty, because human beings operate it, human beings are greedy, human beings will keep tweaking and eventually perverting the system for personal advantage. This is not to suggest that all economic systems are equally good or equally bad: transparently, that is not so. Nor is it to suggest that legislators should not constantly work to correct a system and fill loopholes that encourage corruption. But it is to suggest that the Bible is painfully realistic about the impossibility of any utopia, economic or otherwise, in this fallen world. Moreover, on occasion the Israelites would become so corrupt, both within the economic arena and beyond it, that God would withhold his blessing from the land; for instance, the rain might be withheld (as in the days of Elijah). And then the land itself would not be able to support all the people living there.

Thus the insistence that there will always be poor people (a point Jesus reiterates, Matt. 26:11) is not a surreptitious fatalism, but an appeal for openhanded generosity.

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Deut. 13-14; Psalms 99-101; Isaiah 41; Revelation 11

Jun 10, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 13-14; Psalms 99-101; Isaiah 41; Revelation 11

THREE QUESTIONS:

(1) How can you spot a false prophet? The Bible offers several complementary criteria. For instance, in Deuteronomy 18:22 we are told that if an ostensible prophet predicts something and that thing does not take place, the prophet is false. Of course, that criterion does not help very much if what the prophet has predicted is far into the future. Moreover, here in Deuteronomy 13 we are warned that the inverse does not prove the prophet is trustworthy. If what the ostensible prophet predicts takes place, or if he manages to perform some sort of miraculous sign or wonder, another criterion must be brought to bear. Is this prophet’s message enticing people to worship some god other than the Lord who brought the people out of Egypt?

What this criterion presupposes is a thorough grasp of antecedent revelation. You have to know what God has revealed about himself before you can determine whether or not the prophet is leading you to a false god. For the false god may still be given the biblical names of God (as in, say, Mormonism, or the christology of Jehovah’s Witnesses). John’s first epistle offers this same criterion: if what an ostensible prophet (1 John 4:1-6) teaches cannot be squared with what the believers have heard “from the beginning”(1 John 2:7; 2 John 9), it is not of God (so also Paul in Gal. 1:8-9).

(2) Why are false prophets dangerous? Apart from the obvious reason, viz. that they teach false doctrine that leads people astray from the living God and therefore ultimately attracts his judgment, there are two reasons. First, their very description — “false prophet”– discloses the core problem. They profess to speak the word of God, and this can be seductive. If they came along and said, “Let us sin disgustingly,” most would not be attracted. The seduction of false prophecy is its ostensible spirituality and truthfulness. Second, although false prophets may enter a community from outside (e.g., Acts 20:29 — and if it is the “right” outside, this makes them very attractive), they may arise from within the community (e.g., Acts 20:30), as here — for example, a family member (Deut. 13:6). I know of more than one Christian institution that went bad doctrinally because of nepotism.

(3) What should be done about them? Three things. First, recognize that these testing events do not escape the bounds of God’s sovereignty. Allegiance is all the more called for (Deut. 13:3-4). Second, learn the truth, learn it well, or you will always lack discernment. Third, purge the community of false prophets (a process that takes a different form under the new covenant: e.g., 2 Cor. 10 — 13; 1 John 4:1-6), or they will gradually win credence and do enormous damage.

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Deut. 12; Psalms 97-98; Isaiah 40; Revelation 9

Jun 08, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 12; Psalms 97-98; Isaiah 40; Revelation 9

ALTHOUGH THE BOOK OF Deuteronomy constantly looks backward to the Exodus and years of wilderness wanderings, it also looks forward: the people are about to enter the Promised Land, and certain things will change. In times of transition, one must grasp the distinction between what should change and what should not.

Yesterday’s chapter includes the word today: “Remember today that your children were not the ones . . .” (Deut. 11:2). That word is important throughout this book. A proper grasp of the past prepares the way for the changes today, on the verge of entry into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 12, the biggest change that is envisaged is the establishment within the land of a place where God will choose “to put his Name” and establish his dwelling (Deut. 12:5, 11). In other words the chapter anticipates the time when neither independent sacrifices offered wherever the worshiper happens to be (Deut. 12:8), nor the mobile tabernacle of the years of pilgrimage, will be acceptable; rather, God will establish a stable center in the land. “To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts. . . . There, in the presence of the LORD your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the LORD your God has blessed you” (Deut. 12:5-7). In due course the tabernacle was situated at Shiloh, Bethel, and finally at Jerusalem, where it was replaced by the temple in the days of Solomon.

The changed circumstances bring points of both continuity and discontinuity. Moses insists that then, as now, there will be no tolerance for the pagan worship practices of the surrounding nations and of those they purge from the land (Deut. 12:29-31). But the sheer distance that most people will live from the central sanctuary means that they cannot be expected to have all meat slaughtered in its precincts, nor to observe the fine distinctions between what is the priest’s part and what is their part. Now it will be entirely appropriate to slaughter their animals and eat them as they would wild game killed in the field (Deut. 12:15-22). Even so, three points continue in full force. (1) They must not forget to provide for the Levites (many of whom depended on the service of the tabernacle/temple for their sustenance – Deut. 12:19); (2) they must not eat the blood of the animals they slaughter (Deut. 12:23-25); (3) they are still expected to offer the consecrated sacrifices at the central shrine on the high feast days, when every family is expected to present itself to the Lord (Deut. 12:26-28).

Other transitions follow in the history of redemption and demand our thoughtful meditation (e.g., Ps. 95:7-11; Mark 7:19; John 16:5-11; Heb. 3:7 — 4:11).

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Deut. 11; Psalms 95-96; Isaiah 39; Revelation 9

Jun 07, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 11; Psalms 95-96; Isaiah 39; Revelation 9

MY PARENTS WERE RATHER POOR — not with the poverty one finds in the worst of the world’s slums, but poor by North American standards. My Dad was a pastor. Before I was born, still at the end of the Great Depression, Dad took around a little wagon of food that had been collected one Christmas for the poor, and then came home to the flat my parents rented, where the only food for Christmas dinner was a can of beans. My parents gave thanks to God for that — and then even as they were doing so, they were invited out for a meal. I can remember many instances, as I was growing up, when our family prayed that God would meet our needs — huge medical bills when we could afford no insurance, for example — and he always did. When I left home to go to university, my parents scrimped and saved; that year they sent me ten dollars. For them it was a lot of money; for myself, I was financially on my own, and worked and studied. Many times I went two or three days without food, drinking lots of water to keep my stomach from rumbling, asking the Lord to meet my needs, fearful I would have to put studies aside. God always met them, sometimes in the simple ways, sometimes in astonishing displays.

Today I look at my children, and recognize that although they face new sets of trials and temptations, so far they have never had to face anything resembling deprivation (not getting everything they want doesn’t count!). Then I read Deuteronomy 11, where Moses makes a generational distinction: “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched are; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country” (Deut. 11:2-3; see Deut. 11:5). No, it wasn’t the children. “But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done” (Deut. 11:7).

What then does Moses infer from this generational distinction? (1) The older generation should be quick to obey, because of all that they have had the opportunity to learn (Deut. 11:8). Here I am, wondering about my children’s limited experience, when the first thing God says is that I am the one with no excuse. (2) The older generation must systematically pass on what they have learned to their children (Deut. 11:19-21); again, the prime responsibility is mine, not theirs. (3) More broadly, God’s provision to the people of the blessings of the covenant, here focused on the land and its bounty, depends on the first two points.

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Deut. 10; Psalm 94; Isaiah 38; Revelation 8

Jun 06, 2015 | Don Carson

Deuteronomy 10; Psalm 94; Isaiah 38; Revelation 8

INTERSPERSED WITH THE HISTORICAL RECITAL that makes up much of the early chapters of Deuteronomy are bursts of exhortation. One of the most moving is found in Deuteronomy 10:12-22. Its magnificent themes include:

(1) A sheer God-centerdness that embraces both fearing God and loving God (Deut. 10:12-13). In our confused and blinded world, fearing God without loving him will dissolve into terror, and thence into taboos, magic, incantations, rites; loving God without obeying him will dissolve into sentimentalism without strong affection, pretensions of godliness without moral vigor, unbridled lust for power without any sense of impropriety, nostalgic yearnings for relationships without any passion for holiness. Neither pattern squares with what the Bible says: “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him . . .?” (Deut. 10:12).

(2) A sheer God-centeredness that pictures election as a gracious act. God owns the whole show — “the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deut. 10:14). He can do with it as he wishes. What he has in fact done is “set his affection” on the patriarchs, loving them, and in turn choosing their descendants (Deut. 10:15; cf. Deut. 4:37).

(3) A sheer God-centeredness that is never satisfied with the mere rites and show of religion: it demands the heart (Deut. 10:16). That is why physical circumcision could never be seen as an end in itself, not even in the Old Testament. It symbolized something deeper: circumcision of the heart. What God wants is not merely an outward sign that certain people belong to him, but an inward disposition of heart and mind that orient us to God continually.

(4) A sheer God-centeredness that recognizes his impartiality, and therefore his justice — and acts accordingly (Deut. 10:17-20). He is “God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome” (Deut. 10:17). Small wonder then that he accepts no bribes and shows no partiality. (Never confuse election with partiality. Partiality is favoritism that is corrupted by a willingness to pervert justice for the sake of the favored few; election chooses certain people out of God’s free decision and nothing else, and even then justice is not perverted: hence the cross.) And he expects his people to conduct themselves accordingly.

(5) A sheer God-centeredness that is displayed in his people’s praise (Deut. 10:20-22). “He is your praise; he is your God” (Deut. 10:21). Those who focus much on God have much for which to praise. Those whose vision is merely terrestrial or self-centered dry up inside like desiccated prunes. God is your praise!

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