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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Philemon

In the first century, a slave who ran away could legally be executed. A master might not enforce that punishment, but at the very least the runaway slave who was caught would face very brutal treatment.

Onesimus is a slave who has run away from Philemon. Somewhere along the line, Onesimus has been converted. Whether he sought out Paul before his conversion or after, Onesimus is now with Paul, probably in Rome. The apostle is in prison awaiting trial, and Onesimus, now a believer, is running errands for him and otherwise helping him out.

But Paul knows this cannot continue. The apostle himself could be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive. Legally, even morally, Onesimus must go back to Philemon and square things. But where is the morality in Roman slavery itself?

So Paul writes to Philemon and Apphia, knowing they are Christians, presumably well-to-do, with a home big enough to house the church where they live. The letter is a masterpiece of firm, godly diplomacy.

Paul commends Philemon for his love and encouragement (Philemon 7). He mentions that he could simply order him to take certain actions (Philemon 8), yet he prefers to appeal to him “as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon 9) so that Philemon will act out of love. Only then does he mention Onesimus, and state what the appeal consists in. Paul wants Philemon to take back Onesimus, whom Paul characterizes as his “son,” now a “useful” person (which is what the name Onesimus means), and so loved by the apostle that he is Paul’s “very heart” (Philemon 10–12). Paul would have been happy to keep him, but would not do anything without Philemon’s “consent” (Philemon 14). Of course, Onesimus had run away, but regardless of how reprehensible that act had been, in the larger scheme of things “perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while [a convenient passive!] was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philemon 15–16). Surely he will therefore be dear to Philemon, “both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 16).

So Philemon is to welcome back Onesimus as he would welcome the apostle himself (Philemon 17), who hopes to come soon on a visit that will check up on things (Philemon 22). Apparently Onesimus stole from Philemon when he left: Paul says he will gladly repay the full amount—though Paul gently reminds Philemon of the supreme debt he owes to the man who brought him the Gospel.

Nothing can destroy brutal relationships faster than the Gospel rightly applied.

Devotional: Hosea 11

In Hosea 9, God says of his covenant people, “Because of all their wickedness … I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious” (Hos. 9:15). Yet here in Hosea 11 God declares, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hos. 11:8). How shall we put these two passages together?

First, this emotional turmoil is the language of the jilted husband: in this book, Almighty God plays the role of the cuckolded husband. Make all the allowance you like for anthropomorphism, this is as truly the way God presents himself in Scripture as the passages where his utter sovereignty is affirmed. It is the juxtaposition of such themes that has driven orthodox confessionalism to insist that God is simultaneously, on the one hand, sovereign and transcendent, and, on the other, personal and interactive with his image-bearers.

Second, the juxtaposition of God’s wrath and God’s love makes it unnecessary to pull verses out of two chapters (9 and 11). Within chapter 11 the tension is already almost unbearable. The chapter opens with a brief historical review. God saved Israel out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus (Hos. 11:1) and taught her to walk, leading her “with cords of human kindness, with ties of love” (Hos. 11:4). But the more he lavished on Israel the more they turned away (Hos. 11:2), and they utterly refused to repent (Hos. 11:5). So God will come at them with great wrath: “Swords will flash in their cities.… Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them” (Hos. 11:6–7). It sounds as if it is too late. And then suddenly, almost as if God is talking with himself, he asks how he can possibly give them up (Hos. 11:8).

What is the answer? The answer lies in the very character of God. He is not exactly like a cuckolded husband. “For I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (Hos. 11:9). Or, more precisely, as the next two verses demonstrate, he will not finally come to them in wrath. They will go into captivity, but he will roar again with the lion’s royal sway and call his children from the west, from Egypt, from Assyria, and they will be settled again. Indeed, within the larger canonical framework, the fact that God is God and not a mere mortal, the fact that both his wrath and his love must be satisfied, means that wrath and love will rush forward together—until they meet in the cross, the cross of the man who was also called out of Egypt by God to be the perfect son, the perfect antitype of Israel (Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15).

2 Kings 18

Hezekiah Reigns in Judah

18:1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan).1 He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years he took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed.

Sennacherib Attacks Judah

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents2 of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king's house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer's Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the LORD our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my3 hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me4 and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.

Footnotes

[1] 18:4 Nehushtan sounds like the Hebrew for both bronze and serpent
[2] 18:14 A talent was about 75 pounds or 34 kilograms
[3] 18:29 Hebrew his
[4] 18:31 Hebrew Make a blessing with me

(ESV)

Philemon

Greeting

1:1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philemon's Love and Faith

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.1 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul's Plea for Onesimus

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus,2 whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant3 but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

Final Greetings

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Footnotes

[1] 1:6 Or for Christ's service
[2] 1:10 Onesimus means useful (see verse 11) or beneficial (see verse 20)
[3] 1:16 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface; twice in this verse

(ESV)

Hosea 11

The Lord's Love for Israel

11:1   When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
  The more they were called,
    the more they went away;
  they kept sacrificing to the Baals
    and burning offerings to idols.
  Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
  I led them with cords of kindness,1
    with the bands of love,
  and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.
  They shall not2 return to the land of Egypt,
    but Assyria shall be their king,
    because they have refused to return to me.
  The sword shall rage against their cities,
    consume the bars of their gates,
    and devour them because of their own counsels.
  My people are bent on turning away from me,
    and though they call out to the Most High,
    he shall not raise them up at all.
  How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
  How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
  My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
  I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
  for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.3
10   They shall go after the LORD;
    he will roar like a lion;
  when he roars,
    his children shall come trembling from the west;
11   they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria,
    and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD.
12   4 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    and the house of Israel with deceit,
  but Judah still walks with God
    and is faithful to the Holy One.

Footnotes

[1] 11:4 Or humaneness; Hebrew man
[2] 11:5 Or surely
[3] 11:9 Or into the city
[4] 11:12 Ch 12:1 in Hebrew

(ESV)

Psalms 132–134

The Lord Has Chosen Zion

A Song of Ascents.

132:1   Remember, O LORD, in David's favor,
    all the hardships he endured,
  how he swore to the LORD
    and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
  “I will not enter my house
    or get into my bed,
  I will not give sleep to my eyes
    or slumber to my eyelids,
  until I find a place for the LORD,
    a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
  Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
    we found it in the fields of Jaar.
  “Let us go to his dwelling place;
    let us worship at his footstool!”
  Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
    you and the ark of your might.
  Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
    and let your saints shout for joy.
10   For the sake of your servant David,
    do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11   The LORD swore to David a sure oath
    from which he will not turn back:
  “One of the sons of your body1
    I will set on your throne.
12   If your sons keep my covenant
    and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
  their sons also forever
    shall sit on your throne.”
13   For the LORD has chosen Zion;
    he has desired it for his dwelling place:
14   “This is my resting place forever;
    here I will dwell, for I have desired it.
15   I will abundantly bless her provisions;
    I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16   Her priests I will clothe with salvation,
    and her saints will shout for joy.
17   There I will make a horn to sprout for David;
    I have prepared a lamp for my anointed.
18   His enemies I will clothe with shame,
    but on him his crown will shine.”

When Brothers Dwell in Unity

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

133:1   Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!2
  It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
  on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
  It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
  For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

Come, Bless the Lord

A Song of Ascents.

134:1   Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
    who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
  Lift up your hands to the holy place
    and bless the LORD!
  May the LORD bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Footnotes

[1] 132:11 Hebrew of your fruit of the womb
[2] 133:1 Or dwell together

(ESV)