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Today’s Reading

Devotional: 2 Kings 24

The final unraveling of the Davidic dynasty was not pretty. The last reforming king, Josiah, made a major mistake when he unnecessarily confronted Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. In 609 B.C., Josiah not only lost, but lost his life (2 Kings 23:29) while still a relatively young man. His son Jehoahaz became king at the age of twenty-three, but his reign lasted a mere three months, until Pharaoh Neco arrested him and ultimately transported him to Egypt, where he died. Pharaoh Neco installed another son of Josiah on the throne, viz. Jehoiakim. He lasted eleven years. Second Kings 24 picks up the account from there.

Jehoiakim’s Judah was squeezed between Egypt in the south and west, and Babylon in the north and east. The latter got the upper hand. Jehoiakim himself was corrupt, religiously perverse, and had grandiose visions of himself. He reintroduced pagan cults; violence abounded. In the fourth year of his reign, in 605 B.C., Pharaoh Neco of Egypt was crushed by the Babylonians at the battle of Carchemish on the northern Syrian border; Egyptian power did not manage to reassert itself for almost three hundred years. Jehoiakim and the tiny country of Judah became a vassal tributary of the Babylonian empire.

But in 601 B.C., Jehoiakim rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar sent contingents of his armed forces to harry Judah. Then in December 598 B.C., he moved his powerful army to besiege Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died. His eighteen-year-old son Jehoiachin reigned for three months. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision, on March 16, 597 B.C., he abandoned resistance and surrendered. King Jehoiachin, the queen mother, the palace retinue, the nobility, the men of valor, the leading craftsmen, and the priestly aristocracy (including Ezekiel) were transported seven hundred miles away to Babylon—at a time when seven hundred miles was a long, long way. Jehoiachin remained in prison and house arrest for thirty-seven years before he was released; but even then he never returned home, never saw Jerusalem again. The Babylonians still regarded him as the rightful king (as did the exiles), but meanwhile they installed a caretaker king back in Judah—his uncle Zedekiah, still only twenty-one years of age (2 Kings 24:18). His end belongs to the next chapter.

“Surely these things happened to Judah according to the LORD’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.… It was because of the LORD’s anger that all this happened to Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he thrust them from his presence” (2 Kings 24:3–4, 20).

Devotional: Psalm 143

Traditionally, Psalm 143 is classified as the last of seven penitential psalms, doubtless because verse 2 admits to universal guilt. Yet regardless of how important that truth is in the Bible as a whole, in this psalm only in the one verse does this theme surface. Most of the psalm is devoted to the troubles David is facing, occasioned by enemies (Ps. 143:1–6), and David’s growing resolve as he focuses on following God’s way, regardless of what his enemies may do. Some observations:

(1) David’s initial appeal is to God’s faithfulness and righteousness (Ps. 143:1). This is entirely appropriate, in exactly the same way that the goodness of a potentate or the integrity of a judge is welcomed by those trying to redress a wrong. The difficulty, of course, is that as we sinners appeal to the righteousness of God for vindication, it is easy to remember that we ourselves are horribly soiled compared with the clean glory of the unshielded holiness of the Almighty. Hence verse 2: David acknowledges that “no one living is righteous before you.” This is a tension not finally resolved until the cross (Rom. 3:21–26; cf. 1 John 1:9).

(2) If verses 3–4 wallow in the slough of despond, verses 5–6 find David beginning to climb out. On first reading the line “I remember the days of long ago,” a reader might think that David is succumbing to nostalgia, remembering “the good old days.” But he is not so foolish, as the rest of the verse shows: he commits himself instead to thinking of all the things that God has done—in other words, he meditates on all of God’s creative and chastening and redemptive acts in the past; he sets himself to meditate on the God of the Bible. Nor is this a merely intellectual exercise, like reviewing lists for an impending exam. David knows that this focus on what God has done is a God-given means of connecting with the living God himself, and that is what he wants: “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Ps. 143:6).

(3) Three times in verses 8–10 David prays for guidance. Each petition has a slightly different focus. “Show me the way I should go” (Ps. 143:8) reflects David’s confusion, but also hints that there are unique and individual elements to the guidance he needs (as there are individual callings in the church, John 21:21–22). “Teach me to do your will” (Ps. 143:10a) now focuses entirely on God’s agenda (“for you are my God”). Knowing and doing God’s will is the very stuff of guidance. “[M]ay your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10b) is to admit that we may trip as well as rebel, stumble as well as stray—and always we need help.

2 Kings 24

24:1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon. Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.

Jehoiachin Reigns in Judah

Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done.

Jerusalem Captured

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king's mother, the king's wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

Zedekiah Reigns in Judah

18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.

And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

(ESV)

Hebrew 6

6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings,1 the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

The Certainty of God's Promise

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,2 having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Footnotes

[1] 6:2 Or baptisms (that is, cleansing rites)
[2] 6:15 Greek he

(ESV)

Joel 3

The Lord Judges the Nations

3:1 “For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

“What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples.1 You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away, for the LORD has spoken.”

  Proclaim this among the nations:
  Consecrate for war;2
    stir up the mighty men.
  Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10   Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”
11   Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
  Bring down your warriors, O LORD.
12   Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
  for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.
13   Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
  Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
  The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.
14   Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
  For the day of the LORD is near
    in the valley of decision.
15   The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.
16   The LORD roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
  But the LORD is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel.

The Glorious Future of Judah

17   “So you shall know that I am the LORD your God,
    who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain.
  And Jerusalem shall be holy,
    and strangers shall never again pass through it.
18   “And in that day
  the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
    and the hills shall flow with milk,
  and all the streambeds of Judah
    shall flow with water;
  and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD
    and water the Valley of Shittim.
19   “Egypt shall become a desolation
    and Edom a desolate wilderness,
  for the violence done to the people of Judah,
    because they have shed innocent blood in their land.
20   But Judah shall be inhabited forever,
    and Jerusalem to all generations.
21   I will avenge their blood,
    blood I have not avenged,3
    for the LORD dwells in Zion.”

Footnotes

[1] 3:5 Or palaces
[2] 3:9 Or Consecrate a war
[3] 3:21 Or I will acquit their bloodguilt that I have not acquitted

(ESV)

Psalm 143

My Soul Thirsts for You

A Psalm of David.

143:1   Hear my prayer, O LORD;
    give ear to my pleas for mercy!
    In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
  Enter not into judgment with your servant,
    for no one living is righteous before you.
  For the enemy has pursued my soul;
    he has crushed my life to the ground;
    he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
  Therefore my spirit faints within me;
    my heart within me is appalled.
  I remember the days of old;
    I meditate on all that you have done;
    I ponder the work of your hands.
  I stretch out my hands to you;
    my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah
  Answer me quickly, O LORD!
    My spirit fails!
  Hide not your face from me,
    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
  Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
    for in you I trust.
  Make me know the way I should go,
    for to you I lift up my soul.
  Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD!
    I have fled to you for refuge.1
10   Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God!
  Let your good Spirit lead me
    on level ground!
11   For your name's sake, O LORD, preserve my life!
    In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12   And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
    and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
    for I am your servant.

Footnotes

[1] 143:9 One Hebrew manuscript, Septuagint; most Hebrew manuscripts To you I have covered

(ESV)