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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Ezekiel 29

In some ways the prophecy against Egypt (Ezek. 29) is akin to the prophecies against other nations mentioned in this section of Ezekiel (chaps. 25–32). The repetition of themes should signal us as to how important God judges them to be, e.g., the wickedness of arrogant self-confidence and the boasting of independence (Ezek. 29:3, 9). But in addition there are several fresh elements here worth pondering.

(1) Egypt is charged with being “a staff of reed” that could not provide the support she promised. When people tried to lean on her, the reed splintered and tore their flesh (Ezek. 29:6; cf. Isa. 36:6 = 2 Kings 18:21). Neither individuals nor nations should promise what they cannot deliver.

(2) Like Israel (and a lot of other nations, for that matter), Egypt would be defeated and a significant part of its population would go into exile (Ezek. 29:12). Just as the Israelites would be permitted to return to their homeland under the more lenient policies of the Persians, so also a lot of other exiles would be permitted to return to their respective homelands. Not least among them would be the Egyptians (Ezek. 29:13). This is Yahweh’s doing: “I will gather the Egyptians from the nations where they were scattered.”

(3) Nevertheless, God insists that Egypt will never again be a great power (Ezek. 29:14–16). If he is the God who can raise up nations and put them down, he has every right to make these assignments. Some ancient powers have virtually or entirely disappeared: the Hittites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians. The Egyptians are still here, but God says he will make them weak so that they will “never again rule over the nations” (Ezek. 29:15)—and will never be relied on by nations like Israel (Ezek. 29:16).

(4) One of the most intriguing “behind-the-scenes” reasonings is found in Ezekiel 29:17–20. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is going to succeed against Tyre, but it will be a hard campaign and with little profit. So God will give Egypt to Babylon, in part to pay off Babylon for its long and costly years against Tyre. “I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezek. 29:20). Not for a moment should one think that any of the nations acted out of conscious obedience to the Lord (cf. Isa. 10:5ff!). But the Lord is no one’s debtor, and these are the arrangements that Almighty God is making.

We would not know these things apart from revelation, of course. But they warn us against pontificating too loudly about what is going on in our day, when we see so little of the big picture as to what God himself is doing.

Devotional: Galatians 2

Some commentators understand Paul in Galatians 2:1ff. to be saying that after some years he returned to Jerusalem to set before the Jerusalem apostles and other leaders the Gospel he had been preaching among the Gentiles, because he wanted to have himself checked out. He did this privately, of course; yet the fact of the matter is that Paul was afraid he was running or had run his race in vain (Gal. 2:2). This proves that Paul was not as secure in his own mind as he pretends to be in the previous chapter. There is a sense in which he was a derivative apostle.

This reading will not stand up. What Paul means is something quite different. The Galatians have been invaded by agitators from the outside, men who have presented themselves as being authorized by Jerusalem, as somehow supported by the “regular” apostles. The book of Acts supplies evidence that Paul was sometimes dogged by such people. So he goes to Jerusalem, not to have his gospel validated or recast (at this point, Paul is not going to change his mind or direction), but to ensure there are no misrepresentations among the Jerusalem leaders as to what he is preaching, and to encourage those leaders to disassociate themselves entirely from the “false brothers” who are unfairly appealing to Jerusalem to damage Paul and his ministry among the Gentiles. In short, Paul takes steps to ensure that he is not running his race in vain; these agitators are trying to undo his work. He wants to take all proper steps to undermine their pretensions and destroy their influence. Acts 15 shows that that is precisely what the Jerusalem Council achieved. Indeed, Galatians 2:11–14 suggests that Paul achieved gospel consistency more quickly than some of the other apostles. Far from submitting to their judgment on the content of what he was preaching, he was prepared to administer his own rebukes if he saw them behaving inconsistently.

Although there are many piercingly important theological issues that emerge from these confrontations, at this juncture we may fasten on a practical one. While the Gospel is something worth contending for, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this business. When Peter’s inconsistency is public and doing public damage, Paul’s rebuke is public (Gal. 2:11–21). When Paul is trying to clear the air, find out what is going on, and present the tenor of his own work, he approaches the others “privately” (Gal. 2:2). His concern, after all, is the advance of the undiluted Gospel, not his own public vindication. When we find ourselves in the place where we must tenaciously contend for the Gospel, we must think through how to do so most winsomely and strategically.

2 Samuel 22

David's Song of Deliverance

22:1 And David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said,

  “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my1 God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
  my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
    my stronghold and my refuge,
    my savior; you save me from violence.
  I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.
  “For the waves of death encompassed me,
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;2
  the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
  “In my distress I called upon the LORD;
    to my God I called.
  From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry came to his ears.
  “Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations of the heavens trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
  Smoke went up from his nostrils,3
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
10   He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
11   He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he was seen on the wings of the wind.
12   He made darkness around him his canopy,
    thick clouds, a gathering of water.
13   Out of the brightness before him
    coals of fire flamed forth.
14   The LORD thundered from heaven,
    and the Most High uttered his voice.
15   And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
    lightning, and routed them.
16   Then the channels of the sea were seen;
    the foundations of the world were laid bare,
  at the rebuke of the LORD,
    at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
17   “He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
18   He rescued me from my strong enemy,
    from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
19   They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the LORD was my support.
20   He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.
21   “The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
22   For I have kept the ways of the LORD
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
23   For all his rules were before me,
    and from his statutes I did not turn aside.
24   I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from guilt.
25   And the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to my cleanness in his sight.
26   “With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
27   with the purified you deal purely,
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
28   You save a humble people,
    but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down.
29   For you are my lamp, O LORD,
    and my God lightens my darkness.
30   For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
31   This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the LORD proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
32   “For who is God, but the LORD?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
33   This God is my strong refuge
    and has made my4 way blameless.5
34   He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
35   He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36   You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your gentleness made me great.
37   You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet6 did not slip;
38   I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
    and did not turn back until they were consumed.
39   I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise;
    they fell under my feet.
40   For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
41   You made my enemies turn their backs to me,7
    those who hated me, and I destroyed them.
42   They looked, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them.
43   I beat them fine as the dust of the earth;
    I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.
44   “You delivered me from strife with my people;8
    you kept me as the head of the nations;
    people whom I had not known served me.
45   Foreigners came cringing to me;
    as soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me.
46   Foreigners lost heart
    and came trembling9 out of their fortresses.
47   “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation,
48   the God who gave me vengeance
    and brought down peoples under me,
49   who brought me out from my enemies;
    you exalted me above those who rose against me;
    you delivered me from men of violence.
50   “For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations,
    and sing praises to your name.
51   Great salvation he brings10 to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.”

Footnotes

[1] 22:3 Septuagint (compare Psalm 18:2); Hebrew lacks my
[2] 22:5 Or terrified me
[3] 22:9 Or in his wrath
[4] 22:33 Or his; also verse 34
[5] 22:33 Compare Psalm 18:32; Hebrew he has blamelessly set my way free, or he has made my way spring up blamelessly
[6] 22:37 Hebrew ankles
[7] 22:41 Or You gave me my enemies' necks
[8] 22:44 Septuagint with the peoples
[9] 22:46 Compare Psalm 18:45; Hebrew equipped themselves
[10] 22:51 Or He is a tower of salvation

(ESV)

Galatians 2

Paul Accepted by the Apostles

2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Paul Opposes Peter

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.1 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Justified by Faith

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified2 by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness3 were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Footnotes

[1] 2:12 Or fearing those of the circumcision
[2] 2:16 Or counted righteous (three times in verse 16); also verse 17
[3] 2:21 Or justification

(ESV)

Ezekiel 29

Prophecy Against Egypt

29:1 In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt; speak, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD:

  “Behold, I am against you,
    Pharaoh king of Egypt,
  the great dragon that lies
    in the midst of his streams,
  that says, ‘My Nile is my own;
    I made it for myself.’
  I will put hooks in your jaws,
    and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales;
  and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams,
    with all the fish of your streams
    that stick to your scales.
  And I will cast you out into the wilderness,
    you and all the fish of your streams;
  you shall fall on the open field,
    and not be brought together or gathered.
  To the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the heavens
    I give you as food.

Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD.

“Because you1 have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, when they grasped you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; and when they leaned on you, you broke and made all their loins to shake.2 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

“Because you3 said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’ 10 therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, and no foot of beast shall pass through it; it shall be uninhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt a desolation in the midst of desolated countries, and her cities shall be a desolation forty years among cities that are laid waste. I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and disperse them through the countries.

13 “For thus says the Lord GOD: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered, 14 and I will restore the fortunes of Egypt and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin, and there they shall be a lowly kingdom. 15 It shall be the most lowly of the kingdoms, and never again exalt itself above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will never again rule over the nations. 16 And it shall never again be the reliance of the house of Israel, recalling their iniquity, when they turn to them for aid. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.”

17 In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me: 18 “Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre. Every head was made bald, and every shoulder was rubbed bare, yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against her. 19 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth4 and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army. 20 I have given him the land of Egypt as his payment for which he labored, because they worked for me, declares the Lord GOD.

21 “On that day I will cause a horn to spring up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they will know that I am the LORD.”

Footnotes

[1] 29:6 Hebrew they
[2] 29:7 Syriac (compare Psalm 69:23); Hebrew to stand
[3] 29:9 Hebrew he
[4] 29:19 Or multitude

(ESV)

Psalm 78:1–39

Tell the Coming Generation

A Maskil1 of Asaph.

78:1   Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
    incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
  I will open my mouth in a parable;
    I will utter dark sayings from of old,
  things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
  We will not hide them from their children,
    but tell to the coming generation
  the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might,
    and the wonders that he has done.
  He established a testimony in Jacob
    and appointed a law in Israel,
  which he commanded our fathers
    to teach to their children,
  that the next generation might know them,
    the children yet unborn,
  and arise and tell them to their children,
    so that they should set their hope in God
  and not forget the works of God,
    but keep his commandments;
  and that they should not be like their fathers,
    a stubborn and rebellious generation,
  a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
    whose spirit was not faithful to God.
  The Ephraimites, armed with2 the bow,
    turned back on the day of battle.
10   They did not keep God's covenant,
    but refused to walk according to his law.
11   They forgot his works
    and the wonders that he had shown them.
12   In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
    in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
13   He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
    and made the waters stand like a heap.
14   In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
    and all the night with a fiery light.
15   He split rocks in the wilderness
    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
16   He made streams come out of the rock
    and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
17   Yet they sinned still more against him,
    rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
18   They tested God in their heart
    by demanding the food they craved.
19   They spoke against God, saying,
    “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
20   He struck the rock so that water gushed out
    and streams overflowed.
  Can he also give bread
    or provide meat for his people?”
21   Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath;
    a fire was kindled against Jacob;
    his anger rose against Israel,
22   because they did not believe in God
    and did not trust his saving power.
23   Yet he commanded the skies above
    and opened the doors of heaven,
24   and he rained down on them manna to eat
    and gave them the grain of heaven.
25   Man ate of the bread of the angels;
    he sent them food in abundance.
26   He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
    and by his power he led out the south wind;
27   he rained meat on them like dust,
    winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28   he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
    all around their dwellings.
29   And they ate and were well filled,
    for he gave them what they craved.
30   But before they had satisfied their craving,
    while the food was still in their mouths,
31   the anger of God rose against them,
    and he killed the strongest of them
    and laid low the young men of Israel.
32   In spite of all this, they still sinned;
    despite his wonders, they did not believe.
33   So he made their days vanish like3 a breath,4
    and their years in terror.
34   When he killed them, they sought him;
    they repented and sought God earnestly.
35   They remembered that God was their rock,
    the Most High God their redeemer.
36   But they flattered him with their mouths;
    they lied to him with their tongues.
37   Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
    they were not faithful to his covenant.
38   Yet he, being compassionate,
    atoned for their iniquity
    and did not destroy them;
  he restrained his anger often
    and did not stir up all his wrath.
39   He remembered that they were but flesh,
    a wind that passes and comes not again.

Footnotes

[1] 78:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[2] 78:9 Hebrew armed and shooting
[3] 78:33 Hebrew in
[4] 78:33 Or vapor

(ESV)