- Conference Media
- New City Catechism
- Read the Bible
My call to the ministry was bound up with Ezekiel 22:30–31: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
We should first reflect on this passage in its own textual and historical context. Ezekiel 22 condemns the sins of Jerusalem, this “infamous city, full of turmoil” (Ezek. 22:5). In particular, it focuses on the sins of the leaders—the kings and princes, the priests, the prophets—and shows the ways in which their sins have brought ruin to the people as a whole. In any declining culture much of the declension comes about by leaders and preachers who are self-serving or even rapacious, corrupt, and perhaps vicious, people who are far more interested in retaining power than in serving, people who devote more attention to the “spin” they will give to public answers than to the truthfulness of their answers. Pretty soon the entire fabric of the culture unravels. Corruption is soon tolerated, then expected. Cynicism becomes the order of the day. More and more people do more and more of what they think they can get away with. Integrity becomes so rare it is newsworthy.
That is what happened to the ancient kingdom of David. When God says he sought for a man to build up the wall and stand in the gap before him on behalf of the land so that he would not have to destroy it (Ezek. 22:30), in part he is picking up the imagery already deployed in chapter 13 with respect to the false prophets (see meditation for September 10). But he is also looking for a mediator, a leader like Moses to intercede for the people when they sin (Ex. 32–33), a leader called and equipped to establish righteousness and justice. In Israel at the beginning of the sixth century, he found none. Of course, God had Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel among the exiles. But these men were to declare God’s word in declining times. Theirs was not the task of rebuilding the wall, of standing in the gap, of averting the wrath of God.
Superficially, of course, one might say that Nehemiah rebuilt the wall, that Ezra reestablished righteousness. But ultimately, only one Mediator would suffice to stand in the gap.
And my call, more than thirty-three years ago? It was complex. I did not understand this passage very well. But the Spirit of God hit me hard with it, and I knew only that I wanted to stand in the gap before him for his people.
The longest sustained encouragement in the New Testament to give money is found in 2 Corinthians 8–9. Today I shall reflect on some of the emphases in 2 Corinthians 8.
(1) Paul encourages the Corinthians to give by referring to the generosity of the Macedonians, who lived in the province to the north and were often viewed by those in Achaia, including the Corinthians, as a slightly inferior breed. Relaying evidence of the grace of God in the lives of some brothers and sisters in Christ can become an incentive to others to conform more closely to Christ.
(2) Paul stresses that the Macedonians were not only generous in the context of their own “severe trial” (2 Cor. 8:1–3), but that their financial giving was a function of the fact that “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Cor. 8:5). The apostle does not think nearly so much of the kind of gift that is a substitute for giving oneself in principle to the Lord Jesus, and, derivatively, to his servant-leaders.
(3) There is considerable stress on perseverance and consistency in this matter of giving. Apparently the Corinthians had pledged the year before to give a certain amount. Now Paul sends Titus to encourage them to bring to completion what they began so well. So today: planned, regular, generous giving is better than the big binge that is wrung out of you by one emotional appeal, in part because the former is a better index of a heart consistently devoted to Christ and his work.
(4) Paul judges that Christian generosity is one of the things in which Christians as a whole should excel—along with such virtues as pure speech, knowledge, complete earnestness, and love for godly leaders (2 Cor. 8:7).
(5) Paul does not want Christian generosity to be the result of a new legal demand: “I am not commanding you,” he writes (2 Cor. 8:8). The highest possible incentive to be generous, in a self-denying way, is found in the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). For Paul, it is unthinkable that anyone who really delights in knowing this Christ could be stingy.
(6) Paul wants the Corinthians to know that although this money is going to help other believers (2 Cor. 8:13–14—presumably the poor believers in Judea), this is not to make them rich as Croesus, but to relieve their poverty.
(7) Paul takes extraordinary pains, even by his choice of the emissaries he sends to transport the money, not only to do what is right in financial matters, but to be seen to be doing what is right (2 Cor. 8:16–24).
15:1 After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. 2 And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” 3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.” 5 And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.
7 And at the end of four1 years Absalom said to the king, “Please let me go and pay my vow, which I have vowed to the LORD, in Hebron. 8 For your servant vowed a vow while I lived at Geshur in Aram, saying, ‘If the LORD will indeed bring me back to Jerusalem, then I will offer worship to2 the LORD.’” 9 The king said to him, “Go in peace.” So he arose and went to Hebron. 10 But Absalom sent secret messengers throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then say, ‘Absalom is king at Hebron!’” 11 With Absalom went two hundred men from Jerusalem who were invited guests, and they went in their innocence and knew nothing. 12 And while Absalom was offering the sacrifices, he sent for3 Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor, from his city Giloh. And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.
13 And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” 14 Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 And the king's servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides.” 16 So the king went out, and all his household after him. And the king left ten concubines to keep the house. 17 And the king went out, and all the people after him. And they halted at the last house.
18 And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. 19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. 20 You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the LORD show4 steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” 22 And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. 23 And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.
24 And Abiathar came up, and behold, Zadok came also with all the Levites, bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God until the people had all passed out of the city. 25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. 26 But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.” 27 The king also said to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Go back5 to the city in peace, with your two sons, Ahimaaz your son, and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 See, I will wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 So Zadok and Abiathar carried the ark of God back to Jerusalem, and they remained there.
30 But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. 31 And it was told David, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”
32 While David was coming to the summit, where God was worshiped, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat torn and dirt on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you go on with me, you will be a burden to me. 34 But if you return to the city and say to Absalom, ‘I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father's servant in time past, so now I will be your servant,’ then you will defeat for me the counsel of Ahithophel. 35 Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So whatever you hear from the king's house, tell it to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. 36 Behold, their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok's son, and Jonathan, Abiathar's son, and by them you shall send to me everything you hear.” 37 So Hushai, David's friend, came into the city, just as Absalom was entering Jerusalem.
8:1 We want you to know, brothers,1 about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor2 of taking part in the relief of the saints—5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you3—see that you excel in this act of grace also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going4 to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending5 the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord's sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers6 of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.
22:1 And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 2 “And you, son of man, will you judge, will you judge the bloody city? Then declare to her all her abominations. 3 You shall say, Thus says the Lord GOD: A city that sheds blood in her midst, so that her time may come, and that makes idols to defile herself! 4 You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of1 your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. 5 Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you; your name is defiled; you are full of tumult.
6 “Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. 7 Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. 8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths. 9 There are men in you who slander to shed blood, and people in you who eat on the mountains; they commit lewdness in your midst. 10 In you men uncover their fathers' nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity. 11 One commits abomination with his neighbor's wife; another lewdly defiles his daughter-in-law; another in you violates his sister, his father's daughter. 12 In you they take bribes to shed blood; you take interest and profit2 and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; but me you have forgotten, declares the Lord GOD.
13 “Behold, I strike my hand at the dishonest gain that you have made, and at the blood that has been in your midst. 14 Can your courage endure, or can your hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with you? I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. 15 I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you. 16 And you shall be profaned by your own doing in the sight of the nations, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
17 And the word of the LORD came to me: 18 “Son of man, the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are bronze and tin and iron and lead in the furnace; they are dross of silver. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have all become dross, therefore, behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. 20 As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. 21 I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. 22 As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LORD; I have poured out my wrath upon you.”
23 And the word of the LORD came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her, You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice. 30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath. I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord GOD.”
69:1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.1
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother's sons.
9 For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
10 When I wept and humbled2 my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
14 Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Hide not your face from your servant,
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies!
19 You know my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
20 Reproaches have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.
22 Let their own table before them become a snare;
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.3
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation;
let no one dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute him whom you have struck down,
and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
27 Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from you.4
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29 But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.