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2 Samuel 7; 2 Corinthians 1; Ezekiel 15; Psalms 56-57

Sep 11, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 7; 2 Corinthians 1; Ezekiel 15; Psalms 56-57

THE SUPERSCRIPTION OF Psalm 57 specifies that this psalm was written when David “had fled from Saul into the cave” (cf. 1 Sam. 22:1; 24:3). What we find, then, is something of the emotional and spiritual tone of the man when he could say, in effect, that “there is only a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3). Some reflections:

(1) Even as he cries for mercy, David expresses his confidence in God’s sovereign power. The language is stunning: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps. 57:2). The title “God Most High” is not very common in the Psalms. Perhaps David is thinking of another man without a home, Abraham, who was more familiar with this way of addressing God. Certainly David does not think that somehow circumstances have slipped away from such a God. He begs for mercy, but he recognizes that God, the powerful God, fulfills his purposes in him. This mixture of humble pleading and quiet trust in God’s sovereign power recurs in Scripture again and again. Nowhere does it reach a higher plane than in the prayer of the Lord Jesus in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39). In some measure or another, every follower of Jesus Christ will want to learn the anguish and the joy of that sort of praying.

(2) The refrain in Psalm 57:5 and 11—“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth”—finds David not only in reverent worship, but affirming something believers easily forget, not least when they are under duress. Perhaps the clearest New Testament equivalent lies in the prayer the Lord Jesus taught us: “[H]allowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Here David meditates not on God’s sovereign power, but on God’s sovereign importance. More important, for David, than whether or not he gets out of the cave, is that God be exalted above the heavens. The passionate prayer that willingly submerges urgent personal interests to God’s glory breeds both joy and stability: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music” (Ps. 57:7).

(3) Rather striking is David’s glance at the orbit where he intends to bear witness: “I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Ps. 57:9-10). No truncated vision, this. And today as countless millions sing these words, David’s vow has been fulfilled far more extensively than even he could have imagined.

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2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 16; Ezekiel 14; Psalm 55

Sep 10, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 6; 1 Corinthians 16; Ezekiel 14; Psalm 55

THREE OBSERVATIONS FROM Ezekiel 14:

First, the peculiar expression “set up idols in their hearts,” repeated several times with minor variations in Ezekiel 14:1-8, reeks of duplicity. Publicly there may be a fair bit of covenantal allegiance, but heart loyalty simply isn’t there. To set up idols in the heart is to separate oneself from the living God (Ezek. 14:7).

That danger is no less treacherous today than in Ezekiel’s time. Somehow we manage to adhere to our creedal profession, but if anything goes wrong our undisciplined rage shows that we maintain little real trust in the living God: our secret idol is comfort and physical well-being. We attend church, but rarely do we pray in private or thoughtfully read the Word of God. We sing lustily at missionary conventions, but have not shared the Gospel with anyone for years. And deep down we are more interested in our reputation, or in sex, or in holidays, than we are in basking in the awesome radiance and majesty of God. Meditate on Ezekiel 14:8, and ask for forgiveness and grace to become more consistent.

Second, those who set up idols in their hearts are the very people most likely to seek out a prophet or a preacher to keep up appearances and secure a little help along the way. But God says, “I the LORD will answer [them] myself in keeping with [their] great idolatry” (Ezek. 14:4). He will “entice” the prophets (Ezek. 14:9-11)—the word might better here be rendered “deceive.” God’s “deception” of the prophets is part of his judicial sentence. Yet it is a peculiar “deception,” for God’s revelation is already there in public Scriptures to be read and studied; moreover, he now openly tells the prophets of his judicial hand upon them. If they had an iota of spiritual sensibility, the warning would drive them to self-examination and repentance. But no: the sentence is pronounced, and they are deceived. Such prophets lie to the people, and the people like the lies and listen to them (cf. Ezek. 13:19).

Third, sometimes judgment becomes so inevitable that not even the presence of the most righteous would delay it any longer (Ezek. 14:12-23). The reasoning presupposes the theology of Genesis 18: God may spare a wicked city or nation for the sake of the just who reside there. But where wickedness overflows, not even the presence of Noah (spared from the Flood), Job (declared “blameless” and “upright,” Job 1:1), and Daniel (Ezekiel’s contemporary, serving in the Babylonian courts, renowned for his piety) will stay the disaster that God ordains. Indeed, when the exiles see the revolting conduct of the new refugees, they will realize how right God was (Ezek. 14:22-23).

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2 Samuel 4-5; 1 Corinthians 15; Ezekiel 13; Psalms 52-54

Sep 09, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 4-5; 1 Corinthians 15; Ezekiel 13; Psalms 52-54

IN ALMOST EVERY GENERATION there are both true voices and false. How can one discern between the two?

The question cannot be comprehensively answered by referring to only one passage. For instance, Deuteronomy 13 provides one framework that should be carefully thought through, but it is not the only one. Here in Ezekiel 13 the matter is cast not so much as a set of points to help the righteous discern between true prophet and false, but as a denunciation of all that is false. In so doing God provides at least a partial profile of false prophets.

(1) False prophets speak out of their own spirit, out of their own imaginations. They may think they have something from the Lord, but they do not. “Their visions are false and their divinations a lie” (Ezek. 13:6). This is not so much a principle that the onlooker can use, as a warning to the false prophets themselves. False prophets may deceive other people; they never deceive God. And it is to God that we will one day have to give an account (Ezek. 13:8-9).

(2) They do not deal with the fundamental issues of sin, corruption, injustice, and covenantal faithlessness. To use the metaphor of a walled city, instead of repairing the “wall” they merely cover it with whitewash, so that it looks sturdy enough to the casual observer even though it is hopelessly compromised. “You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD” (Ezek. 13:5), Ezekiel writes. A good storm strips away the whitewash and discloses the horrible weakness. The false prophets deal in omens and end-times fancies and promises of revival, but they do not declare the holiness of God and the odiousness of sin; they fail to bring people to repentance, faith, and obedience.

(3) They are more interested in auguries, telling personal fortunes, serving as “prophetic” personal hope-spinners, than in conveying the word of the Lord. They are not really serious people—except for their seriousness when it comes to getting paid (Ezek. 13:17-19).

(4) One of the larger effects they have is to discourage the genuine people of God. Too many false voices in a culture and many people become confused, disheartened, disoriented. Instead of maintaining a moral standard that reinforces righteousness, builds character, and encourages godliness, these people pronounce their curses and taboos on people God himself has not condemned, and exonerate the wicked so that they do not turn from their evil ways and so save their lives (Ezek. 13:20-23).

Where in our culture do these characteristics thrive? Where do they thrive in the professing church?

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2 Samuel 3; 1 Corinthians 14; Ezekiel 12; Psalm 51

Sep 08, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 3; 1 Corinthians 14; Ezekiel 12; Psalm 51

THE SUBSTANCE OF EZEKIEL 12 is easy to understand.

One can imagine the power in Ezekiel’s symbol-laden actions. In full view of the exiles, he packs his meager belongings in exactly the same way he would if he were a Jerusalemite preparing for a seven-hundred-mile march into exile. What he could bring would have to be carried on his shoulders. At night he digs through the mud-brick walls of his own house. Probably this symbolizes the futile attempt at breakout made by Zedekiah and those immediately around him (2 Kings 25:4; Jer. 39:4): they fled, but they could not escape. All of this Ezekiel does without saying a word, and then the next morning he delivers his message: “I am a sign to you. As I have done, so it will be done to them. They will go into exile as captives” (Ezek. 12:11)—with further explanations following (Ezek. 12:12-16).

The second symbol-laden action adds a layer to something already in place. So far as his public eating is concerned, Ezekiel is still restricted to the starvation rations imposed in Ezekiel 4:9-17. Now as he eats them, he shudders and puts on a display of terror and despair (Ezek. 12:17-20).

And then the stunning application. The people have heard a lot of prophets, and they have grown so cynical that they are circulating a couple of proverbs: “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing” (Ezek. 12:22); “The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future” (Ezek. 12:27). After all, not only are there false prophets around, but even the true prophets like Ezekiel and (in Jerusalem) Jeremiah keep promising the destruction of the city while years pass with its mighty walls intact. Jeremiah has been at it for decades. Doubtless God sees the long delay as powerful evidence of his forbearance and mercy, providing multiplied opportunities for repentance; the people simply grow cynical. So judgment will certainly fall, Ezekiel says—and the popular proverbs will be destroyed.

Peter applies the same point to Christians, drawing from another Old Testament account. After the warnings began, the Flood was decades coming, and no one was ready for it except Noah and his family. So it is not surprising that in the “last days”—the days between the first and second comings of Christ, the days in which we live—new generations of scoffers arise and make a virtue of the same wretched cynicism: “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). But the Flood came. And so will the fire.

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2 Samuel 2; 1 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 11; Psalm 50

Sep 07, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 2; 1 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 11; Psalm 50

THERE ARE TWO HIGHLY SYMBOLIC actions in Ezekiel 11, one of them beginning in Ezekiel 10, the other entirely within the chapter at hand:

(1) Although it is difficult to trace exactly the movement of the glory of the Lord, it is reasonably clear that this glory, once associated with the temple—especially with the Most Holy Place and the ark of the covenant over which the cherubim stretched their wings—abandons the temple and hovers over the mobile throne. The same mobile throne Ezekiel had seen in Babylon is now parked by the south entrance to the temple. The four living creatures, now identified as cherubim, transport the glory of the Lord to the east gate (Ezek. 10:18-19), and then to the mountain east of the city (Ezek. 11:23). Thus the presence of God judicially abandons the temple and the city. Nothing stands in the way of their destruction.

(2) The picture of the cooking pot (Ezek. 11:3-12) conjures up the false sense of security that a strong, walled city could engender among its inhabitants. The Jerusalemites thought of themselves as the good meat within the “pot” of the walled city, nicely surrounded and protected. But God himself will drive them out (Ezek. 11:7). This city will not be a “pot” for them at all (Ezek. 11:11). The truth of the matter is that the Jerusalemites, whom the exiles were inclined to lionize because they were still there in Jerusalem, were extraordinarily arrogant. While the exiles pinned their hopes on them, the Jerusalemites themselves saw the exiles as so much rubbish, people rejected by God and transported far away from the land and the temple (Ezek. 11:14-15). Indeed, God says there is going to be a mighty reversal. True, God did scatter the exiles among the nations. But while they have been away, God himself has been their sanctuary (Ezek. 11:16)—which shows that the temple is not strictly needed for God to be present among his people, to be a “sanctuary” for them. Thus while the Jerusalemites will be destroyed (even as they dismiss the exiles as of no account), God will gather together a remnant from among them (Ezek. 11:17). Ultimately he will put into place a new covenant that will transform them (Ezek. 11:18-20). These themes are taken up in more detail later in the book (e.g., chap. 36).

The vision of chapters 8-11 ends with Ezekiel transported back to Babylon, telling the people everything he has seen and heard. The first strands of hope in this book have been laid out, but not in the categories expected. Jerusalem will be destroyed, and God’s purposes for the future center on the exiles themselves. How often in Scripture does God effect his rescue, his salvation, through the weak and the despised!

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2 Samuel 1; 1 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 10; Psalm 49

Sep 06, 2014 | Don Carson

2 Samuel 1; 1 Corinthians 12; Ezekiel 10; Psalm 49

IN LIGHT OF THE TERRIBLE JUDGMENTS pronounced against Jerusalem in Ezekiel 8-11, with the beginning of the withdrawal of the glory of the Lord in Ezekiel 10, we should think through the bearing of such sins in our own framework:

Why do we choose what can last but an hour
Before we must leave it behind?
Why do possessions exert brutal power
To render us harsh and unkind?
Why do mere things have the lure of a flower
Whose scent makes us selfish and blind?
The cisterns run dry, and sour is our breath;
We dwell in the valley of death.

Why is betrayal attractive to us
Who often are hurt and betrayed?
Why barter faithful devotion for lust,
Integrity cast far away?
Why do our dreams, then our deeds, beggar trust,
Our guilt far too heavy to pay?
The cisterns run dry, and sour is our breath;
We dwell in the valley of death.

Why do we stubbornly act out a role,
Convincing the world that we’ve won?
Why for mere winning will we sell our soul,
In order to be number one?
Why sear our conscience so we’re in control—
Despairing of what we’ve become?
The cisterns run dry, and sour is our breath;
We dwell in the valley of death.

O Jesus—

Why do you promise to quench all our thirst,
When we have despised all your ways?
Why do you rescue the damned and the cursed,
By dying our death in our place?
Why do you transform our hearts till they burst
With vibrant expressions of praise?
The well flows with life—and we’re satisfied—
The fountain that flows from your side.

 

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1 Samuel 31; 1 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 9; Psalm 48

Sep 05, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Samuel 31; 1 Corinthians 11; Ezekiel 9; Psalm 48

IF EZEKIEL 8 DESCRIBES THE CORRUPT worship that was going on in Jerusalem in the years leading up to her destruction in 587 B.C., Ezekiel 9 describes something of what God does about it.

There is both a negative component and a positive element. In his vision, Ezekiel hears God call for “the guards of the city” (Ezek. 9:1)—more precisely, the executioners of the city. Six men arrive, “each with a deadly weapon in his hand” (Ezek. 9:2). A seventh man, clothed in linen, has a writing kit at his side. God commissions him to put an identifying mark on the foreheads of those who will escape slaughter; he commissions the executioners to go through the city “and kill, without showing pity or compassion” (Ezek. 9:5), beginning at the sanctuary itself. “So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple” (Ezek. 9:6).

As they proceed with their grisly task, Ezekiel cries out, “Ah, Sovereign LORD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezek. 9:8). The Lord responds with a devastating indictment (Ezek. 9:9-10) that includes a word-play: the people of Israel insist the Lord does not “see” (or “look”), so the Lord resolves not to “see/look” on them with pity or spare them. He is resolved to “bring down on their own heads what they have done” (Ezek. 9:10).

The positive element has already been alluded to. Not everyone is destroyed. The seventh man, the man with the writing kit, goes through the city putting a mark on the foreheads “of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezek. 9:4). The executioners are strictly forbidden to harm these people (Ezek. 9:5). Note well: those who are spared are not those who simply sit on the sidelines, but those who actively grieve over the spiritual degradation of the city. They may not have the power to effect change, but they have not sunk into the lassitude of careless indifference. And God spares them.

Of course, all that is described here takes place within Ezekiel’s visionary world. In the real world, we are not to think that all the righteous and only the righteous escaped all of the sufferings associated with Nebuchadnezzar’s siege: the Bible is full of stories in which righteous people suffer (e.g., Naboth the vineyard owner). What this vision does mean is that God himself ordains the judgment, and God himself vindicates those who are covenantally faithful. Similar symbolism is picked up at the end of Revelation 13 and the beginning of Revelation 14 (see vol. 1, meditation for December 23).

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1 Samuel 29-30; 1 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 8; Psalms 46-47

Sep 04, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Samuel 29-30; 1 Corinthians 10; Ezekiel 8; Psalms 46-47

EZEKIEL 8-11 CONSTITUTES one long vision.

The opening verse of Ezekiel 8 establishes the time at exactly fourteen months after the prophet’s inaugural vision, and therefore after the 390 days when he was lying for some part of each day on his left side denouncing the northern tribes already taken into captivity, and during the 40 days when he was lying on his right side denouncing the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. By this point he has established his credentials as a prophet, so the elders of the exilic community come and consult him (Ezek. 8:1). Probably they are troubled by his symbol-laden actions, and are asking him what will happen to Jerusalem, and if and when they will get home.

Ezekiel does not respond off the top of his head. Rather, he waits, and is granted another vision, the content of which he ultimately transmits to the exiles (Ezek. 11:25). In this vision, he sees something of God in categories reminiscent of those in the inaugural vision (chap. 1). Within the visionary world, Ezekiel is transported by the Spirit to Jerusalem, near the north gate. He is shown several horrible examples of idolatry and syncretism.

First, he witnesses the idol that provokes God to jealousy (Ezek. 8:3-6). If it is by the north gate, it is by the gate the king and his retinue would use on their way to the temple. The king whose responsibility it is to lead the people in covenantal faithfulness is the leader in compromise and syncretism—and in line with his covenantal conditions, God is rightly jealous (see Ex. 20:1-17). Second, Ezekiel sees seventy elders actually worshiping creatures that were, according to the Mosaic covenant, unclean even for eating and touching (Ezek. 8:7-13). Third, he sees women profoundly engaged with Tammuz (Ezek. 8:14-15). The Tammuz cult was a fertility cult, ascribing agricultural bounty to a dying and rising god. Some of these cults were also terribly promiscuous. Finally, Ezekiel sees priests (for only they could be between the portico and the altar) with their backs to the temple, worshiping the sun—not only cherishing the created thing above the Creator (Rom. 1:25), but violating the covenant (Deut. 4:19), influenced perhaps by the Egyptian sun god Ra.

Modern forms of idolatry are different, of course. Most of us have not been caught mourning for Tammuz. But do our hearts pursue things that rightly make God jealous? Do we love dirty and forbidden things? Do we ascribe success to everything but God? We may not succumb to fertility cults, but doesn’t our culture make sex itself a god?

Corrupt worship invariably replaces and relativizes God and ends up dulling moral vision (Ezek. 8:17).

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1 Samuel 27; 1 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 6; Psalm 44

Sep 02, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Samuel 27; 1 Corinthians 8; Ezekiel 6; Psalm 44

PSALM 44 IS AN IMPORTANT FOIL for the themes we have been digesting from the prophets. The major prophets keep drawing a tight link between the sins of Israel and the destruction that God inflicted upon them: the people get what they deserve. Of course, we have come across innocent suffering before, especially in Job and in some Psalms. But here in Psalm 44 is the suffering of an innocent nation.

There were defeats and even deportations (Ps. 44:11) before the exile (see Amos 1:6, 9), so we cannot be certain when this psalm was written. Defeat was not unknown even to good kings (e.g., Ps. 60). Here the psalmist begins by reviewing the past. When the nation was called into existence, everything depended on God’s strong intervention: “it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them” (Ps. 44:3). The psalmist is not looking back to national heroes and bemoaning their contemporary absence. He looks back to God’s power in the past, and insists the nation still relies on God (Ps. 44:6-8). So why the disastrous defeats (Ps. 44:9-16)? Unlike the gross sin denounced by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, here fidelity still triumphs: “All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path” (Ps. 44:17-18).

At least two hints toward the end of the psalm, though they do not provide “solutions,” invite the reader to reflect on the direction taken by later biblical writers. (1) Sometimes God’s apparent sleep, his withdrawal (Ps. 44:23ff.), is not overt wrath poured out on our sin, but his own timing. He refuses to be hurried, and his “unfailing love” (Ps. 44:26) will triumph in the end. The ebbs and flows of Christian history support the same stance: they do not always correspond with differing degrees of loyalty or different methods. As one commentator (F. D. Kidner) has finely put it, “Although its picture of the sleeping Lord may seem naive to us, it was acted out in the New Testament, to teach a lesson which we still find relevant: cf. verse 23 with Mark 4:38.” (2) More stunningly, the psalmist says it is “for your sake [that] we face death all day long” (Ps. 44:22, italics added). That point is not fully developed until Paul quotes the verse (Rom. 8:36ff.). But already it embraces the notion that some suffering is not the result of our sin but simply the result of being faithful to God in a world at war with him. In such cases suffering is not a sign of defeat but a badge of fidelity and fellowship, even of victory: we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

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