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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Zechariah 13:2–9

In some ways Zechariah 13:2–9 continues with the theme of leadership. But it has two parts, each with very distinctive emphases:

(1) In Zechariah 13:2–6 God condemns the false shepherds—a common theme, of course (e.g., Jer. 23:9ff.; Ezek. 13; 34:1–10). Moreover, it fits the immediately preceding verses. There, we saw, a fountain is opened up for the cleansing of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in general, and for the house of David in particular. But if citizens and royalty alike are purified, so also must the religious leaders be purified. “On that day” (Zech. 13:2), God declares, he will banish not only the idols but the false prophets from the land. So transformed will be the situation that the covenantal ideal will be in force (Deut. 13:6–11): if someone says “Thus says the Lord” when the Lord has not spoken, his closest family members will be the first to silence him. Those who in the past have been false prophets will be so ashamed of themselves that when they are challenged they will insist that they are farmers (Zech. 13:4–5). If there are “prophetic scars” on their bodies (doubtless from self-inflicted wounds tied to ecstatic paganism, as in 1 Kings 18:28) they will lie through their teeth and insist that the scars were the result of some brawl or other that went on “at the house of my friends” (Zech. 13:6).

The point is that in the final arrangements of things, false teaching and false prophecy will be a thing of the past. Those with ears to hear should therefore abominate all such “prophecy” already, as a mark of attentiveness to the true word of the Lord.

(2) Some have wondered if the final three verses (Zech. 13:7–9) have somehow been misplaced from the end of chapter 11, where Zechariah has devoted a lot of attention to shepherds. In fact, these verses would not have made much sense there but they are admirably suitable here. Chapter 11 ends with Zechariah representing the worthless shepherd who undergoes divine disapproval. But the shepherd in Zechariah 13:7–9 is one God approves. The connections with the preceding two sections are easier to demonstrate. In Zechariah 12:10–13:1, Yahweh himself is wounded, pierced through; and then false prophets are denounced (Zech. 13:2–9). But there is still a need for the right shepherd. The right one is God’s shepherd, “my shepherd … the man who is close to me” (Zech. 13:7). God commands the sword to strike him (reflect on Acts 4:27–28). Elsewhere, God himself is the shepherd, and so is his servant David (Ezek. 34); so here, God himself is pierced through, and so also is his shepherd. The first result is that the sheep scatter (Zech. 13:7; see Mark 14:27; Matt. 26:31); the ultimate result is the purification and faithfulness of the people of God (Zech. 13:9).

Devotional: Revelation 17

The vision of the prostitute of Revelation 17 is replete with colorful language that has confounded many an interpreter. Yet the main lines are reasonably clear, and even the more disputed points are not completely obscure. Here we may reflect on three matters:

(1) Her basic identification to any reader in the first century would not have been in doubt. Reference to the seven hills on which the woman sits (Rev. 17:9), plus the explicit statement that the woman “is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18), would identify her with Rome.

(2) Formally, she is identified in slightly obscure terms: “Mystery: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth” (Rev. 17:5). Historical Babylon was by this point a ruin of a place, a relatively small and certainly enfeebled center without significant influence. But Babylon had stood in Old Testament times for all that was pagan, powerful, self-promoting, and vile. Babylon was the city that had sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile (however much the people of God had earned the judgment). Now the ancient city’s name is transferred to Rome, the new geopolitical center. The word prostitutes is not in the first instance referring to ordinary human prostitutes, but to spiritual prostitution (once again drawn from the Old Testament). “The mother of all X” is a Semitic way of saying something like “the archetype of all X.” And at the time, Rome was certainly, in this sense, the mother of all spiritual prostitution, the fount of the abominations of the earth. The title was merited not only because of her paganism, political corruption, endless violence and perversion, extraordinary wealth and wretched poverty, but also because this was the center where a human being, the current Caesar, was addressed on minted coins as “Our Lord and God,” and from which emanated the political will that was increasingly directed against the people of God.

(3) The seven heads of this prostitute, we are told, point in two directions. On the one hand, they point to the seven hills of Rome. They also point to seven kings, five of whom have fallen, “one is, the other has not yet come” (Rev. 17:10). It is extremely difficult to align this list with the known Caesars of the first century. Various connections have been drawn; I am uncertain which one is right. But the beast on which the woman is riding, certainly identified with the beast out of the sea from chapter 13, this beast that receives a fatal wound and then is healed, “is an eighth king” (Rev. 17:11). This suggests to many (rightly, I think) a manifestation of evil beyond the Roman Empire.

2 Chronicles 31

Hezekiah Organizes the Priests

31:1 Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and broke down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all. Then all the people of Israel returned to their cities, every man to his possession.

And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, division by division, each according to his service, the priests and the Levites, for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to minister in the gates of the camp of the LORD and to give thanks and praise. The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings: the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD. And he commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might give themselves to the Law of the LORD. As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been dedicated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps. In the third month they began to pile up the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month. When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and his people Israel. And Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps. 10 Azariah the chief priest, who was of the house of Zadok, answered him, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left.”

11 Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. 12 And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second, 13 while Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah were overseers assisting Conaniah and Shimei his brother, by the appointment of Hezekiah the king and Azariah the chief officer of the house of God. 14 And Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, keeper of the east gate, was over the freewill offerings to God, to apportion the contribution reserved for the LORD and the most holy offerings. 15 Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah were faithfully assisting him in the cities of the priests, to distribute the portions to their brothers, old and young alike, by divisions, 16 except those enrolled by genealogy, males from three years old and upward—all who entered the house of the LORD as the duty of each day required—for their service according to their offices, by their divisions. 17 The enrollment of the priests was according to their fathers' houses; that of the Levites from twenty years old and upward was according to their offices, by their divisions. 18 They were enrolled with all their little children, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, the whole assembly, for they were faithful in keeping themselves holy. 19 And for the sons of Aaron, the priests, who were in the fields of common land belonging to their cities, there were men in the several cities who were designated by name to distribute portions to every male among the priests and to everyone among the Levites who was enrolled.

20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. 21 And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.

(ESV)

Revelation 17

The Great Prostitute and the Beast

17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.1

When I saw her, I marveled greatly. But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit2 and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel3 said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

Footnotes

[1] 17:6 Greek the witnesses to Jesus
[2] 17:8 Greek the abyss
[3] 17:15 Greek he

(ESV)

Zechariah 13:2–9

Idolatry Cut Off

“And on that day, declares the LORD of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more. And also I will remove from the land the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness. And if anyone again prophesies, his father and mother who bore him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who bore him shall pierce him through when he prophesies.

“On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive, but he will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a worker of the soil, for a man sold me in my youth.’1 And if one asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your back?’2 he will say, ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’

The Shepherd Struck

  “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who stands next to me,”
      declares the LORD of hosts.
  “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered;
    I will turn my hand against the little ones.
  In the whole land, declares the LORD,
    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
    and one third shall be left alive.
  And I will put this third into the fire,
    and refine them as one refines silver,
    and test them as gold is tested.
  They will call upon my name,
    and I will answer them.
  I will say, ‘They are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’”

Footnotes

[1] 13:5 Or for the land has been my possession since my youth
[2] 13:6 Or on your chest; Hebrew wounds between your hands

(ESV)

John 16

16:1 “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Your Sorrow Will Turn into Joy

16 “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

I Have Overcome the World

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.1 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Footnotes

[1] 16:27 Some manuscripts from the Father

(ESV)