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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Psalms 135–136

Some Psalms give us a glimpse of ancient Israelite worship, and Psalm 136 is one of them. Probably this was sung antiphonally: either a restricted part of the choir, or one part of the congregation in the temple would sing the lead line of each cycle, and the whole congregation would burst out and respond with “His love endures forever.” Comparing Psalm 136:18–22 with Psalm 135:10b–12 suggests that some other psalms were sung this way too. In Jewish tradition this psalm is known as the Great Hallel, “the Great Psalm of Praise.” The refrain itself celebrates God’s “love”: the Hebrew word is hesed, notoriously difficult to render consistently by one English word. The King James Version opts for “steadfast love.” It is bound up with God’s faithfulness to the covenant, and in various contexts might properly be rendered “grace,” “love,” even “covenant-fidelity”—with overtones of a reciprocal obligation.

What makes this psalm so thought-provoking is not the compactness of the refrain but its connection with a vast grounding of evidence—evidence that God’s love endures forever. The psalm speaks of God’s character (Ps. 136:1), the sweep of his sovereignty (Ps. 136:2–3), his creative power (Ps. 136:4–9), the extraordinary displays of his might when he redeemed his people from Egypt (Ps. 136:10–22), and his mercy displayed alike to his elect and to every creature under heaven that needs food (Ps. 136:23–25). Contrast this specificity with more than a few contemporary praise choruses that endlessly exhort us to praise the Lord, without telling us why we should praise the Lord, or perhaps giving us only a reason or two. In the choruses, the emphasis tends to be on worship; here, the emphasis is on the One who is worshiped, such that the worship has the flavor of being no more than the inevitable response to so great a God. The one focuses on what we do, the other on who God is and what he has done.

Some final reflections: (1) The expression “Give thanks” that opens the first three verses and the last suggests more than a casual “Thanks a lot.” It has to do with “confessing” (in the old-fashioned sense), “acknowledging” (with thoughtful God-centeredness), with grateful worship. (2) This God brooks no rivals. He is the God of gods, the Lord of lords (Ps. 136:2, 3). (3) Informed as they are by pluralism, our ears find it strange to append the refrain “His love endures forever” to such lines as “who struck down great kings” and “[h]e swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea.” But these actions were expressions of God’s elective love for his chosen people. The notion that God loves all people exactly the same way and in every respect finds little support in Scripture.

Devotional: Hebrews 1

The contrasts in the opening verses of Hebrews 1 all tend in the same direction.

“In the past” contrasts with “in these last days.” God spoke “to our forefathers” stands over against the fact that in these last days he has spoken “to us.” In the past God spoke to the forefathers “through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” But in these last days God has spoken to us “by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2).

Indeed, the form of that expression, “by his Son,” in the original, suggests pretty strongly that the author of Hebrews does not think of the Son as one more prophet, or even as the supreme prophet. The idea is not that while in the past the word of God was mediated by prophets, in these last days the word has been mediated by the Son, who thus becomes the last of the prophets. Something more fundamental is at issue. The Greek expression, over-translated, means “in Son.” The absence of the article “the” is significant. Moreover, “in Son” contrasts not only with “through the prophets” but with “through the prophets at many times and in various ways.”

The point is that in these last days God has disclosed himself in the Son revelation. In the past, when God used the prophets he sometimes gave them words directly (in oracles or visions), sometimes providentially led them through experiences they recorded, sometimes “spoke” through extraordinary events such as the burning bush: there were “many times” and “various ways” (Heb. 1:1). But now, God has spoken “in Son”—we might paraphrase, “in the Son revelation.” It is not that Jesus simply mediates the revelation; he is the revelation. It is not that Jesus simply brings the word; he is himself, so to speak, the Word of God, the climactic Word. The idea is very similar to what one reads in the Prologue of John’s Gospel. The Son is capable of this because he is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3).

Strictly speaking, then, Christians are not to think of the New Testament books as just like the Old Testament books, bringing the next phase of God’s redemptive plan to us. Mormons argue that that is all they are—and then say that Joseph Smith brought a still later revelation to us, since he was yet another accredited prophet. But the author of Hebrews sees that the climax of all the Old Testament revelation, mediated through prophets and stored in books, is not, strictly speaking, more books—but Christ Jesus himself. The New Testament books congregate around Jesus and bear witness to him who is the climax of revelation. Later books that cannot bear witness to this climactic revelation are automatically disqualified.

2 Kings 19

Isaiah Reassures Hezekiah

19:1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the LORD your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

Sennacherib Defies the Lord

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

Hezekiah's Prayer

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

Isaiah Prophesies Sennacherib's Fall

20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken concerning him:

  “She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
  she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.
22   “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
  and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
23   By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
  I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
  I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
  I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
24   I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
  and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’
25   “Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
  I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
  that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
26   while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
  and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
  like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.
27   “But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
28   Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
  I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
  and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

29 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this.

32 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

35 And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.

(ESV)

Hebrews 1

The Supremacy of God's Son

1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

  “You are my Son,
    today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

  “I will be to him a father,
    and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

  “Let all God's angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

  “He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

  “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
  You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
  therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

10 And,

  “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11   they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
12   like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.1
  But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end.”

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

  “Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Footnotes

[1] 1:12 Some manuscripts omit like a garment

(ESV)

Hosea 12

12:1   Ephraim feeds on the wind
    and pursues the east wind all day long;
  they multiply falsehood and violence;
    they make a covenant with Assyria,
    and oil is carried to Egypt.

The Lord's Indictment of Israel and Judah

  The LORD has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
  In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
  He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
  He met God1 at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us—
  the LORD, the God of hosts,
    the LORD is his memorial name:
  “So you, by the help of your God, return,
    hold fast to love and justice,
    and wait continually for your God.”
  A merchant, in whose hands are false balances,
    he loves to oppress.
  Ephraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich;
    I have found wealth for myself;
  in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.”
  I am the LORD your God
    from the land of Egypt;
  I will again make you dwell in tents,
    as in the days of the appointed feast.
10   I spoke to the prophets;
    it was I who multiplied visions,
    and through the prophets gave parables.
11   If there is iniquity in Gilead,
    they shall surely come to nothing:
  in Gilgal they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars also are like stone heaps
    on the furrows of the field.
12   Jacob fled to the land of Aram;
    there Israel served for a wife,
    and for a wife he guarded sheep.
13   By a prophet the LORD brought Israel up from Egypt,
    and by a prophet he was guarded.
14   Ephraim has given bitter provocation;
    so his Lord will leave his bloodguilt on him
    and will repay him for his disgraceful deeds.

Footnotes

[1] 12:4 Hebrew him

(ESV)

Psalms 135–136

Your Name, O Lord, Endures Forever

135:1   Praise the LORD!
  Praise the name of the LORD,
    give praise, O servants of the LORD,
  who stand in the house of the LORD,
    in the courts of the house of our God!
  Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
    sing to his name, for it is pleasant!1
  For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself,
    Israel as his own possession.
  For I know that the LORD is great,
    and that our Lord is above all gods.
  Whatever the LORD pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.
  He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
    who makes lightnings for the rain
    and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
  He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    both of man and of beast;
  who in your midst, O Egypt,
    sent signs and wonders
    against Pharaoh and all his servants;
10   who struck down many nations
    and killed mighty kings,
11   Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    and Og, king of Bashan,
    and all the kingdoms of Canaan,
12   and gave their land as a heritage,
    a heritage to his people Israel.
13   Your name, O LORD, endures forever,
    your renown,2 O LORD, throughout all ages.
14   For the LORD will vindicate his people
    and have compassion on his servants.
15   The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
16   They have mouths, but do not speak;
    they have eyes, but do not see;
17   they have ears, but do not hear,
    nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18   Those who make them become like them,
    so do all who trust in them.
19   O house of Israel, bless the LORD!
    O house of Aaron, bless the LORD!
20   O house of Levi, bless the LORD!
    You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
21   Blessed be the LORD from Zion,
    he who dwells in Jerusalem!
  Praise the LORD!

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

136:1   Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
  Give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
  Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  to him who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  to him who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  to him who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
  the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
10   to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11   and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12   with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13   to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14   and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15   but overthrew3 Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16   to him who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
17   to him who struck down great kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
18   and killed mighty kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
19   Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
20   and Og, king of Bashan,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
21   and gave their land as a heritage,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
22   a heritage to Israel his servant,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
23   It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
24   and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
25   he who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
26   Give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Footnotes

[1] 135:3 Or for he is beautiful
[2] 135:13 Or remembrance
[3] 136:15 Hebrew shook off

(ESV)