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Today’s Reading

Devotional: Isaiah 43

Although God has an ideal Servant who will be his perfect agent to bring to pass all his purposes (Isa. 42:1–9), Israel is also God’s servant. In Isaiah 43 and on into chapter 44, Isaiah encourages Israel, God’s servant (Isa. 43:10; 44:1). Here I shall pick up on elements of this encouragement and then draw attention to an important clause picked up by the Lord Jesus in the New Testament.

In the first section (Isa. 43:1–7), God tells Israel not to be afraid (Isa. 43:1)—not because she will not go into exile, but because when she passes through the waters God will be with her, and when she passes through the fire the flames will not utterly destroy her (Isa. 43:2). Moreover, she will not face extinction or assimilation: God himself will gather her children from the four points of the compass (Isa. 43:5–6). Despite the most appalling circumstances, the living God declares Israel to be precious and honored in his sight, and much loved (Isa. 43:4). Paul reasons analogously with respect to Christians in Romans 8:31–39.

More briefly: (a) Israel should be encouraged because her return after exile will bear witness to God and testify that it was God alone who knew of these stupendous events and brought them to pass (Isa. 43:8–13). (b) Babylon will be destroyed. The nation of conquerors will become a tumult of fugitives (Isa. 43:14–15). (c) Israel is used to reflecting on God’s mighty deeds to redeem his people at the time of the Exodus (Isa. 43:16–17), but now God will do a new thing (Isa. 43:18–21). So do not dissolve into the past and whine your way to defeat. Be courageous, for God is about to do a new thing, to effect a new cycle of spectacular delivery. (d) Above all, the Israelites’ massively compromised worship and multiplied offenses (Isa. 43:22–24) are not the last word. The first line of Isaiah 43:22 in Hebrew might better be rendered: “It was not me you called upon, O Jacob”—for the Israelite worship was so corrupt, such a distortion of the covenant, that the true God was not really being worshiped at all. But God himself is the One who blots out their transgressions for his own sake (Isa. 43:25)—a further anticipation of Isaiah 53.

God wants his servant Israel to understand “that I am he” (Isa. 43:10; cf. Isa. 41:4; 48:12). The Hebrew conjures up associations with Exodus 3:14; the Greek rendering of this phrase is precisely the expression that Jesus repeatedly applies to himself in John 8 (e.g., John 8:58, “I am”). How then does Isaiah 43 shape how we must think of Jesus?

Devotional: Psalm 103

It is difficult to imagine a lovelier psalm than Psalm 103. When our children were growing up, the price they “paid” for their first leather-bound Bibles was memorizing Psalm 103. Across the centuries, countless believers have turned to these lines to find their spirits lifted, a renewed commitment to praise and gratitude, and incentive to prayer, a restoration of a God-centered worldview. This psalm could easily claim our meditations for the rest of the month, for the rest of the year. Instead, we focus on three of its features.

(1) The psalm is bracketed by exhortations to praise. At the front end, David exhorts himself, and, by his example, his readers: “Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name” (Ps. 103:1). Implicitly David recognizes that it is distressingly easy to preserve the externals of praise, with nothing erupting from within the heart of God’s image-bearers. This will not do: “all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” By the end of the psalm, however honest and profound this individual’s worship, the framework for praising such a God is too small, for after all, God’s kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19): “Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. Praise the LORD, all his works, everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul” (Ps. 103:20-22). Now the psalmist’s praise is one with the praise of heaven, with the praise of the entire created order.

(2) When David starts to enumerate “all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2), he begins with the forgiveness of sins (Ps. 103:3). Here is a man who understands what is of greatest importance. If we have everything but God’s forgiveness, we have nothing of worth; if we have God’s forgiveness, everything else of value is also promised (cf. Rom. 8:32).

(3) David soon moves from the blessings he enjoys as an individual believer to the Lord’s public justice (Ps. 103:6), to his gracious self-disclosure to Moses and the Israelites (Ps. 103:7-18). Here he stays the longest time, turning over and over in his mind the greatest blessings the Lord has granted to his people. Above all, he focuses once again on the sheer privilege of having sins forgiven, removed, forgotten. All of this, David perceives, stems from the character of God. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8). He deals with our sin — but compassionately, fully bearing in mind our weak frames. We may be creatures of time, but “from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him” (Ps. 103:17).

Deut. 16

Passover

16:1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the LORD your God, for in the month of Abib the LORD your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the LORD your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the LORD will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, but at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall cook it and eat it at the place that the LORD your God will choose. And in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God. You shall do no work on it.

The Feast of Weeks

“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

The Feast of Booths

13 “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed. 17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God that he has given you.

Justice

18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. 20 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Forbidden Forms of Worship

21 “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of the LORD your God that you shall make. 22 And you shall not set up a pillar, which the LORD your God hates.

(ESV)

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O My Soul

Of David.

103:1   Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
  Bless the LORD, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
  who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
  who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
  who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
  The LORD works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
  He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
  The LORD is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
  He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10   He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11   For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12   as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13   As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14   For he knows our frame;1
    he remembers that we are dust.
15   As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16   for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17   But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children's children,
18   to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
19   The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20   Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
21   Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
22   Bless the LORD, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
  Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Footnotes

[1] 103:14 Or knows how we are formed

(ESV)

Isaiah 43

Israel's Only Savior

43:1   But now thus says the LORD,
  he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
  “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
  when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
  For I am the LORD your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
  I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
  Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
  I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.
  Fear not, for I am with you;
    I will bring your offspring from the east,
    and from the west I will gather you.
  I will say to the north, Give up,
    and to the south, Do not withhold;
  bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the end of the earth,
  everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”
  Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes,
    who are deaf, yet have ears!
  All the nations gather together,
    and the peoples assemble.
  Who among them can declare this,
    and show us the former things?
  Let them bring their witnesses to prove them right,
    and let them hear and say, It is true.
10   “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD,
    “and my servant whom I have chosen,
  that you may know and believe me
    and understand that I am he.
  Before me no god was formed,
    nor shall there be any after me.
11   I, I am the LORD,
    and besides me there is no savior.
12   I declared and saved and proclaimed,
    when there was no strange god among you;
    and you are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and I am God.
13   Also henceforth I am he;
    there is none who can deliver from my hand;
    I work, and who can turn it back?”
14   Thus says the LORD,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
  “For your sake I send to Babylon
    and bring them all down as fugitives,
    even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice.
15   I am the LORD, your Holy One,
    the Creator of Israel, your King.”
16   Thus says the LORD,
    who makes a way in the sea,
    a path in the mighty waters,
17   who brings forth chariot and horse,
    army and warrior;
  they lie down, they cannot rise,
    they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
18   “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
19   Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
  I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
20   The wild beasts will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches,
  for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
  to give drink to my chosen people,
21     the people whom I formed for myself
  that they might declare my praise.
22   “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
    but you have been weary of me, O Israel!
23   You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings,
    or honored me with your sacrifices.
  I have not burdened you with offerings,
    or wearied you with frankincense.
24   You have not bought me sweet cane with money,
    or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices.
  But you have burdened me with your sins;
    you have wearied me with your iniquities.
25   “I, I am he
    who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
    and I will not remember your sins.
26   Put me in remembrance; let us argue together;
    set forth your case, that you may be proved right.
27   Your first father sinned,
    and your mediators transgressed against me.
28   Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary,
    and deliver Jacob to utter destruction
    and Israel to reviling.

(ESV)

Revelation 13

The First Beast

13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling,1 that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.2 And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10   If anyone is to be taken captive,
    to captivity he goes;
  if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
    with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

The Second Beast

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence,3 and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of4 the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave,5 to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.6

Footnotes

[1] 13:6 Or tabernacle
[2] 13:7 Some manuscripts omit this sentence
[3] 13:12 Or on its behalf
[4] 13:14 Or on behalf of
[5] 13:16 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface
[6] 13:18 Some manuscripts 616

(ESV)