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Today’s Reading

Devotional

IN THE CONTINUING PRESSURE he felt to respond to those who were undermining his authority in Corinth, Paul finds he must “boast” while not “boasting” (see yesterday’s meditation). In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul climaxes his argument by insisting that the Christian’s only proper boasting is in Christ Jesus: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). In 2 Corinthians 11:16–33, he adopts a slightly different slant to get at the same truth.

What Paul does is take a kind of “time out”: he says he will boast, not as Paul the apostle, not even as Paul the Christian, but rather as Paul the “fool” (2 Cor. 11:16–21). He is frightfully embarrassed to do even this (2 Cor. 11:21b, 23), but he cannot see another way forward. True, he says, he was steeped in Hebrew culture and language from his youth, and he is a “servant of Christ” no less than others—but to talk like this is so painful that he explodes parenthetically, “I am out of my mind to talk like this” (2 Cor. 11:23). And then he inverts all the categories. He “worked much harder”: he means he worked physically, with his hands—something no first-class, self-respecting Hellenistic teacher would do. Further, he says, he has a longer prison record than they do. He has been flogged more often. Five times he has endured the synagogue sanction, the thirty-nine lashes. He has been shipwrecked three times in his voyages for the Gospel (2 Cor. 11:25)—and this was written before the one recorded in Acts 27. Constant danger has bedeviled him in his travels, and he has often been forced to go without food. Worse, he has been betrayed by “false brothers” (2 Cor. 11:26) while facing the perpetual stress of his concern for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:27–28).

We must not read this with Western Christian eyes as an exciting saga of endurance under pressure. We read Paul’s sufferings and admire his faithfulness and steadfastness, his conformity to the Christ who went to the cross. But his opponents would see all these “boasts” as signs of weakness and even stupidity: he does not even have enough sense to keep himself out of trouble. But Paul is determined to invert human boasting; he will boast about the things that display his weakness (2 Cor. 11:30). Even his last shot runs along these lines (2 Cor. 11:31–33). We tend to see Paul’s escape from Damascus through Luke’s eyes (Acts 9). Paul himself saw his flight as an embarrassing defeat. At a time when the highest Roman military honor went to the soldier of centurion rank or higher who was first over the wall at the end of a siege, Paul avers he was the first down.

In what ways do you boast of your weaknesses?

2 Samuel 18

Absalom Killed

18:1 Then David mustered the men who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. And David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the men, “I myself will also go out with you.” But the men said, “You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city.” The king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood at the side of the gate, while all the army marched out by hundreds and by thousands. And the king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders about Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. And the men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the loss there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.

And Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak,1 and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 And a certain man saw it and told Joab, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not reach out my hand against the king's son, for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘For my sake protect the young man Absalom.’ 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life2 (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” And he took three javelins in his hand and thrust them into the heart of Absalom while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab's armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him and killed him.

16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the troops came back from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained them. 17 And they took Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the forest and raised over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled every one to his own home. 18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King's Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's monument3 to this day.

David Hears of Absalom's Death

19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Let me run and carry news to the king that the LORD has delivered him from the hand of his enemies.” 20 And Joab said to him, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king's son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed before Joab, and ran. 22 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” 23 “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.

24 Now David was sitting between the two gates, and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked, he saw a man running alone. 25 The watchman called out and told the king. And the king said, “If he is alone, there is news in his mouth.” And he drew nearer and nearer. 26 The watchman saw another man running. And the watchman called to the gate and said, “See, another man running alone!” The king said, “He also brings news.” 27 The watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “He is a good man and comes with good news.”

28 Then Ahimaaz cried out to the king, “All is well.” And he bowed before the king with his face to the earth and said, “Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who raised their hand against my lord the king.” 29 And the king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king's servant, your servant, I saw a great commotion, but I do not know what it was.” 30 And the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still.

David's Grief

31 And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “Good news for my lord the king! For the LORD has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.” 32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.” 33 4 And the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Footnotes

[1] 18:9 Or terebinth; also verses 10, 14
[2] 18:13 Or at the risk of my life
[3] 18:18 Or Absalom's hand
[4] 18:33 Ch 19:1 in Hebrew

(ESV)

2 Corinthians 11

Paul and the False Apostles

11:1 I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Paul's Sufferings as an Apostle

16 I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would1 but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. 21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,2 in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

Footnotes

[1] 11:17 Greek not according to the Lord
[2] 11:27 Or often in fasting

(ESV)

Ezekiel 25

Prophecy Against Ammon

25:1 The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, set your face toward the Ammonites and prophesy against them. Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because you said, ‘Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession, and they shall set their encampments among you and make their dwellings in your midst. They shall eat your fruit, and they shall drink your milk. I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels and Ammon1 a fold for flocks. Then you will know that I am the LORD. For thus says the Lord GOD: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations. And I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries; I will destroy you. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Prophecy Against Moab and Seir

“Thus says the Lord GOD: Because Moab and Seir2 said, ‘Behold, the house of Judah is like all the other nations,’ therefore I will lay open the flank of Moab from the cities, from its cities on its frontier, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim. 10 I will give it along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession, that the Ammonites may be remembered no more among the nations, 11 and I will execute judgments upon Moab. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

Prophecy Against Edom

12 “Thus says the Lord GOD: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them, 13 therefore thus says the Lord GOD, I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. 14 And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall do in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath, and they shall know my vengeance, declares the Lord GOD.

Prophecy Against Philistia

15 “Thus says the Lord GOD: Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance with malice of soul to destroy in never-ending enmity, 16 therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I will stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the rest of the seacoast. 17 I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”

Footnotes

[1] 25:5 Hebrew and the Ammonites
[2] 25:8 Septuagint lacks and Seir

(ESV)

Psalm 73

Book Three

God Is My Strength and Portion Forever

A Psalm of Asaph.

73:1   Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
  But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
  For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
  For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
  They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
  Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
  Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
  They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
  They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10   Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.1
11   And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12   Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13   All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14   For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15   If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16   But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17   until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.
18   Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19   How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20   Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21   When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22   I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.
23   Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24   You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25   Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26   My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength2 of my heart and my portion forever.
27   For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28   But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

Footnotes

[1] 73:10 Probable reading; Hebrew the waters of a full cup are drained by them
[2] 73:26 Hebrew rock

(ESV)