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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Zechariah 9

Zechariah 9–14 constitutes a second and distinctive part of the book. With their apocalyptic images and colorful metaphors, these chapters include many units hard to understand. Usually, however, the main line of thought is clear enough. Zechariah 9 can be divided into three sections:

(1) The first is “an oracle” (Zech. 9:1–8). The peculiar word used suggests something of compulsion: this oracle is a “burden” to the prophet, and he cannot keep it in. In the past, most of Israel’s enemies have come from the north. In this oracle, however, it is Yahweh himself who advances on the Promised Land from the north. The sequence of cities mentioned establishes the geography: he will conquer all the cities down the coast and come to his own house (Zech. 9:8) and defend his own people. The ultimate hope of God’s people resides in something more dramatic than the return from exile that they have already experienced. It resides in the supreme visitation of Almighty God.

(2) The second section depicts the arrival of the king (Zech. 9:9–10). These verses are steeped in allusions to earlier Old Testament passages—to the figure pictured in Genesis 49:10–11, to the kingly deeds of Micah 5:10, to the extent of his kingdom in Psalm 72:8, and so forth. The figure, in short, is messianic, yet the preceding verses depict Yahweh himself coming to rescue his people. Thus in some respects the passage is akin to Isaiah 9:1ff.: there, too, a prophet looks forward to a Davidic king, yet one who is called “the mighty God.” Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15 allude to this passage in their respective accounts of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Neither of them refers to verse 10, for both of these evangelists are aware that only a partial fulfillment has taken place in their day. Unqualified disarmament and unqualified peace among the nations (Zech. 9:10) await the consummation. In this sort of partial quotation of an Old Testament text they follow the example of the Lord Jesus, who for exactly the same reason—that is, because the final judgment still lies in the future—cites certain parts of Old Testament passages and not others (cf. Matt. 11:2–19, and meditation for July 1).

(3) God still speaks, and he gives all the reasons for rejoicing (Zech. 9:11–17). He himself will come and free the prisoners, for his covenantal faithfulness has been sealed in blood—not only in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 15:9–11) but in its extension in the Mosaic covenant (Ex. 24:8), and supremely in the blood of the new covenant that was shed on a hill outside Jerusalem (see Mark 14:24).

Devotional: Revelation 13

It turns out that Satan has two unholy beasts to assist him, one that comes out of the sea (Rev. 13:1–10), and the other out of the earth (Rev. 13:11–18). Together they constitute an unholy triumvirate that in some ways apes the Trinity.

Admittedly, many of the apocalyptic symbols in this chapter have been interpreted in mutually exclusive ways by different schools of thought. It is entirely beyond these brief meditations to defend a particular structure. In my view, however, these beasts represent recurring historical manifestations of evil—in the one case, evil in its guise as outright opposition against the people of God, and in the other, evil in its guise as religious deception. (It is not for nothing that the beast out of the earth is described later in this book as “the false prophet”: e.g., Rev. 19:20.) Satan deploys not only agents who overtly and viciously attack believers, but also agents whose mission it is to seduce and deceive, if it is possible, the very elect.

Observe one of the extraordinary elements in the description of the first beast. He has received a fatal wound, but the wound has been healed. This sounds incongruous: surely if the wound has been healed, it was not fatal, and if it was fatal then obviously it could not be healed. But this symbolism is meant to describe the repeated historical manifestations of this monster. He emerges in a Nero, in the Roman Emperor, in Innocent III, in a Hitler. In every case, the monster is cut down. Many people think that evil in its worst form has finally been destroyed. The thousand-year Reich lasts a decade and a half: surely this was the war to end all wars. Then the genocide starts again—in the Eastern block, in China, in Cambodia, in Rwanda. The beast receives a fatal wound, but always the beast comes back to life.

Note some of the symbols used to describe the false prophet. He looks like a lamb, but he speaks like a dragon (Rev. 13:11): this probably does not mean that he roars like a dragon and scares everyone off, but that he appears innocent, even though his speech is the speech of the dragon—the “great dragon” of Revelation 12:9, none other than Satan himself. This “lamb” turns out to be Satan’s mouthpiece. He performs miraculous signs and thereby deceives the inhabitants of the earth (Rev. 13:14). There is no suggestion that the signs are mere tricks; miraculous power does not necessarily attest divine power. Ultimately he uses the authority he derives from the first beast to constitute an exclusive identity for his own followers, excluding all others with severe economic sanctions (Rev. 13:16–17). Even little historical knowledge can remember manifestations of such deceitful coercion.

2 Chronicles 26

Uzziah Reigns in Judah

26:1 And all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king instead of his father Amaziah. He built Eloth and restored it to Judah, after the king slept with his fathers. Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper.

He went out and made war against the Philistines and broke through the wall of Gath and the wall of Jabneh and the wall of Ashdod, and he built cities in the territory of Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. 10 And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. 11 Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war, in divisions according to the numbers in the muster made by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king's commanders. 12 The whole number of the heads of fathers' houses of mighty men of valor was 2,600. 13 Under their command was an army of 307,500, who could make war with mighty power, to help the king against the enemy. 14 And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. 15 In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.

Uzziah's Pride and Punishment

16 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18 and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” 19 Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy1 broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. 21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.

22 Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote. 23 And Uzziah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said, “He is a leper.” And Jotham his son reigned in his place.

Footnotes

[1] 26:19 Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13

(ESV)

Resources

Why Is the Number of the Beast 666?

There has been unending speculation about the number 666 in Revelation 13:8. But in this verse John is exhorting the saints to spiritual and moral discernment, not intellectual ability to solve a complex mathematical problem.

Revelation 13

The First Beast

13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling,1 that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.2 And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10   If anyone is to be taken captive,
    to captivity he goes;
  if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
    with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

The Second Beast

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence,3 and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of4 the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave,5 to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.6

Footnotes

[1] 13:6 Or tabernacle
[2] 13:7 Some manuscripts omit this sentence
[3] 13:12 Or on its behalf
[4] 13:14 Or on behalf of
[5] 13:16 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface
[6] 13:18 Some manuscripts 616

(ESV)

Zechariah 9

Judgment on Israel's Enemies

9:1   The oracle of the word of the LORD is against the land of Hadrach
    and Damascus is its resting place.
  For the LORD has an eye on mankind
    and on all the tribes of Israel,1
  and on Hamath also, which borders on it,
    Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise.
  Tyre has built herself a rampart
    and heaped up silver like dust,
    and fine gold like the mud of the streets.
  But behold, the Lord will strip her of her possessions
    and strike down her power on the sea,
    and she shall be devoured by fire.
  Ashkelon shall see it, and be afraid;
    Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish;
    Ekron also, because its hopes are confounded.
  The king shall perish from Gaza;
    Ashkelon shall be uninhabited;
  a mixed people2 shall dwell in Ashdod,
    and I will cut off the pride of Philistia.
  I will take away its blood from its mouth,
    and its abominations from between its teeth;
  it too shall be a remnant for our God;
    it shall be like a clan in Judah,
    and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites.
  Then I will encamp at my house as a guard,
    so that none shall march to and fro;
  no oppressor shall again march over them,
    for now I see with my own eyes.

The Coming King of Zion

  Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
  Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
  humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10   I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
    and the war horse from Jerusalem;
  and the battle bow shall be cut off,
    and he shall speak peace to the nations;
  his rule shall be from sea to sea,
    and from the River3 to the ends of the earth.
11   As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
    I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12   Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
    today I declare that I will restore to you double.
13   For I have bent Judah as my bow;
    I have made Ephraim its arrow.
  I will stir up your sons, O Zion,
    against your sons, O Greece,
    and wield you like a warrior's sword.

The Lord Will Save His People

14   Then the LORD will appear over them,
    and his arrow will go forth like lightning;
  the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet
    and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
15   The LORD of hosts will protect them,
    and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones,
  and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine,
    and be full like a bowl,
    drenched like the corners of the altar.
16   On that day the LORD their God will save them,
    as the flock of his people;
  for like the jewels of a crown
    they shall shine on his land.
17   For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!
    Grain shall make the young men flourish,
    and new wine the young women.

Footnotes

[1] 9:1 Or For the eye of mankind, especially of all the tribes of Israel, is toward the Lord
[2] 9:6 Or a foreign people; Hebrew a bastard
[3] 9:10 That is, the Euphrates

(ESV)

John 12

Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany

12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound1 of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii2 and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it3 for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

The Plot to Kill Lazarus

When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus4 was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

The Triumphal Entry

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

15   “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
  behold, your king is coming,
    sitting on a donkey's colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

Some Greeks Seek Jesus

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The Unbelief of the People

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

  “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

40   “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
  lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

Jesus Came to Save the World

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Footnotes

[1] 12:3 Greek litra; a litra (or Roman pound) was equal to about 11 1/2 ounces or 327 grams
[2] 12:5 A denarius was a day's wage for a laborer
[3] 12:7 Or Leave her alone; she intended to keep it
[4] 12:9 Greek he

(ESV)