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Today’s Reading

Devotional: 2 Corinthians 13

In many churches around the world, though comparatively less frequently in North America, the minister at the end of the service will quietly utter the two words, “The grace.” Those gathered know that this is a signal for the entire congregation to pray together, reciting the verse from which these two words are drawn: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

The text is short and simple, and we are in danger of flying by without reflecting on it.

(1) The triune God is the source of these blessings. That in itself is noteworthy: there was no long delay before Christians like Paul saw the implications of who Jesus is, and the implications of the gift of the Spirit, for their understanding of God himself. The entire Godhead is engaged in this vastly generous salvage operation that takes God’s fallen image-bearers and restores them to fellowship with their Maker.

(2) In the first two parts, the “grace” is undoubtedly the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ gives or provides, and the “love” is the love that God himself pours out. That makes it overwhelmingly likely that the third clause, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” does not refer to our fellowship with the Spirit, but to the fellowship that the Holy Spirit bestows, enables, or gives. The Holy Spirit is finally the author of Christian fellowship. We enjoy Christian fellowship with one another because of the Spirit’s work in each of us individually and in all of us corporately, turning our hearts and minds from self-focus and sin to adoration of God and a love of holiness and a delight in Jesus and his Gospel and teachings. Without such transformation, our “fellowship,” our partnership in the Gospel, would be impossible.

(3) Not for a moment should we imagine that grace comes exclusively from Jesus, love exclusively from God the Father, and fellowship exclusively from the Spirit—as if Jesus could not love or generate fellowship, the Father could not display grace, and so forth. There is a sense in which grace, love, and fellowship come from the triune God. Yet one may usefully connect grace with the Lord Jesus, because his sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross was offered up out of sheer grace; we may usefully connect love with God, because the entire plan of redemption springs from the wise and loving heart of God, of whom it is said, “God is love” (see 1 John 4:8 and the October 11 meditation); we may usefully connect fellowship with the Holy Spirit, since his is the work of transformation that unites us together in the partnership of the Gospel.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Devotional: Psalms 75–76

The structure of Psalm 76 has an elegant simplicity, with a theological lesson I shall spell out at the end of this meditation. The first six verses recall a great deliverance, a concrete historical event; the final six verses paint a picture on a cosmic scale, with every prospect that God will triumph no less in this domain.

The historical particularity of the first six verses is clear in the first two: “In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel. His tent is in Salem [an alternative name for Jerusalem, Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:2], his dwelling place in Zion [the fortress on the hilltop that David captured]” (Ps. 76:1–2). The focus, then, is on Jerusalem, the city where God disclosed himself. The reference to “tent” may suggest that the tabernacle was still standing, the temple not yet built. Alternatively, the temple was built, but “tabernacle” language was still being used of it because that was the terminology used in the Mosaic covenant. This city, in any case, was where God “broke the flashing arrows” (Ps. 76:3, literally, “thunderbolts,” cf. Ps. 78:48) and other weapons of war. Verses 4–6 suggest a dramatic and sudden rescue like that when Sennacherib’s army was destroyed overnight by the angel of the Lord (Isa. 37:36; see meditation for June 5). God himself declared, “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here” (Isa. 37:33). Compare: “[N]ot one of the warriors can lift his hands.”

The rest of the psalm paints with a broader brush. Now God reigns not from Jerusalem, but from heaven (Ps. 76:8). The lessons from the first six verses are universalized: “You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?” (Ps. 76:7). Verse 10 is notoriously difficult to translate. The “wrath” of the first line could either be God’s (hence the NIV), or that of the people (hence NIV footnote). The two notions may not be that far apart. If it is the “fierceness of man” (Coverdale) that turns to the praise of God, it does so in this context because God has the last word and replies in judgment—though it is also true that God operates with such providential wisdom that he can turn the wrath of human beings to serve him even under the most extraordinary conditions (Acts 2:23). What is clear from the closing verses is that God rules over all, and none can stand against him.

Thus the structure of the psalm mirrors in some respects the structure of the entire biblical plot-line, authorizing contemporary readers to see in old covenant narratives of grace and judgment portraits of the ultimate self-disclosure of God in grace and judgment.

2 Samuel 20

The Rebellion of Sheba

20:1 Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said,

  “We have no portion in David,
  and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse;
  every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord's servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.”1 And there went out after him Joab's men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier's garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10 But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab's hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. 11 And one of Joab's young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” 12 And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. 13 When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.

14 And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah,2 and all the Bichrites3 assembled and followed him in. 15 And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down. 16 Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” 17 And he came near her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your servant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” 18 Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. 19 I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the LORD?” 20 Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” 22 Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.

23 Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; 24 and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; 25 and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was also David's priest.

Footnotes

[1] 20:6 Hebrew and snatch away our eyes
[2] 20:14 Compare 20:15; Hebrew and Beth-maacah
[3] 20:14 Hebrew Berites

(ESV)

2 Corinthians 13

Final Warnings

13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. 10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Final Greetings

11 Finally, brothers,1 rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another,2 agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Footnotes

[1] 13:11 Or brothers and sisters
[2] 13:11 Or listen to my appeal

(ESV)

Ezekiel 27

A Lament for Tyre

27:1 The word of the LORD came to me: “Now you, son of man, raise a lamentation over Tyre, and say to Tyre, who dwells at the entrances to the sea, merchant of the peoples to many coastlands, thus says the Lord GOD:

  “O Tyre, you have said,
    ‘I am perfect in beauty.’
  Your borders are in the heart of the seas;
    your builders made perfect your beauty.
  They made all your planks
    of fir trees from Senir;
  they took a cedar from Lebanon
    to make a mast for you.
  Of oaks of Bashan
    they made your oars;
  they made your deck of pines
    from the coasts of Cyprus,
    inlaid with ivory.
  Of fine embroidered linen from Egypt
    was your sail,
    serving as your banner;
  blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah
    was your awning.
  The inhabitants of Sidon and Arvad
    were your rowers;
  your skilled men, O Tyre, were in you;
    they were your pilots.
  The elders of Gebal and her skilled men were in you,
    caulking your seams;
  all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in you
    to barter for your wares.

10 “Persia and Lud and Put were in your army as your men of war. They hung the shield and helmet in you; they gave you splendor. 11 Men of Arvad and Helech were on your walls all around, and men of Gamad were in your towers. They hung their shields on your walls all around; they made perfect your beauty.

12 “Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of every kind; silver, iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares. 13 Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise. 14 From Beth-togarmah they exchanged horses, war horses, and mules for your wares. 15 The men of Dedan1 traded with you. Many coastlands were your own special markets; they brought you in payment ivory tusks and ebony. 16 Syria did business with you because of your abundant goods; they exchanged for your wares emeralds, purple, embroidered work, fine linen, coral, and ruby. 17 Judah and the land of Israel traded with you; they exchanged for your merchandise wheat of Minnith, meal,2 honey, oil, and balm. 18 Damascus did business with you for your abundant goods, because of your great wealth of every kind; wine of Helbon and wool of Sahar 19 and casks of wine3 from Uzal they exchanged for your wares; wrought iron, cassia, and calamus were bartered for your merchandise. 20 Dedan traded with you in saddlecloths for riding. 21 Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your favored dealers in lambs, rams, and goats; in these they did business with you. 22 The traders of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; they exchanged for your wares the best of all kinds of spices and all precious stones and gold. 23 Haran, Canneh, Eden, traders of Sheba, Asshur, and Chilmad traded with you. 24 In your market these traded with you in choice garments, in clothes of blue and embroidered work, and in carpets of colored material, bound with cords and made secure. 25 The ships of Tarshish traveled for you with your merchandise. So you were filled and heavily laden in the heart of the seas.

26   “Your rowers have brought you out
    into the high seas.
  The east wind has wrecked you
    in the heart of the seas.
27   Your riches, your wares, your merchandise,
    your mariners and your pilots,
  your caulkers, your dealers in merchandise,
    and all your men of war who are in you,
  with all your crew
    that is in your midst,
  sink into the heart of the seas
    on the day of your fall.
28   At the sound of the cry of your pilots
    the countryside shakes,
29   and down from their ships
    come all who handle the oar.
  The mariners and all the pilots of the sea
    stand on the land
30   and shout aloud over you
    and cry out bitterly.
  They cast dust on their heads
    and wallow in ashes;
31   they make themselves bald for you
    and put sackcloth on their waist,
  and they weep over you in bitterness of soul,
    with bitter mourning.
32   In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you
    and lament over you:
  ‘Who is like Tyre,
    like one destroyed in the midst of the sea?
33   When your wares came from the seas,
    you satisfied many peoples;
  with your abundant wealth and merchandise
    you enriched the kings of the earth.
34   Now you are wrecked by the seas,
    in the depths of the waters;
  your merchandise and all your crew in your midst
    have sunk with you.
35   All the inhabitants of the coastlands
    are appalled at you,
  and the hair of their kings bristles with horror;
    their faces are convulsed.
36   The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
    you have come to a dreadful end
    and shall be no more forever.’”

Footnotes

[1] 27:15 Hebrew; Septuagint Rhodes
[2] 27:17 The meaning of the Hebrew word is unknown
[3] 27:19 Probable reading; Hebrew wool of Sahar19and Dan and Javan

(ESV)

Psalms 75–76

God Will Judge with Equity

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

75:1   We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks, for your name is near.
  We1 recount your wondrous deeds.
  “At the set time that I appoint
    I will judge with equity.
  When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
  I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
    and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
  do not lift up your horn on high,
    or speak with haughty neck.’”
  For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
  but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
  For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
  and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.
  But I will declare it forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10   All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

Who Can Stand Before You?

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

76:1   In Judah God is known;
    his name is great in Israel.
  His abode has been established in Salem,
    his dwelling place in Zion.
  There he broke the flashing arrows,
    the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah
  Glorious are you, more majestic
    than the mountains full of prey.
  The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
    they sank into sleep;
  all the men of war
    were unable to use their hands.
  At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
    both rider and horse lay stunned.
  But you, you are to be feared!
    Who can stand before you
    when once your anger is roused?
  From the heavens you uttered judgment;
    the earth feared and was still,
  when God arose to establish judgment,
    to save all the humble of the earth. Selah
10   Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
    the remnant2 of wrath you will put on like a belt.
11   Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
    let all around him bring gifts
    to him who is to be feared,
12   who cuts off the spirit of princes,
    who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.

Footnotes

[1] 75:1 Hebrew They
[2] 76:10 Or extremity

(ESV)