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Today’s Reading

Devotional

Deuteronomy 30; Psalm 119:73-96; Isaiah 57; Matthew 5

IN ITS UNFOLDING REFLECTIONS on God and his revelation, Psalm 119 is unsurpassed. Here I shall focus on three themes that surface in Psalm 119:89-96.

(1) God’s revelatory word, that word that has been inscripturated (i.e., written down to become Scripture) is not something that God made up as he went along, as if he did not understand or could not predict exactly how things were going to pan out. Far from it: “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89). It was always there, eternal, in his mind. That is one of the reasons why he can be trusted absolutely: he is never caught out, never surprised. Because God’s word stands firm in the heaven, the psalmist can add, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps. 119:90).

(2) There is a connection between the word of revelation and the word of creation and of providence. Thus the first line of verse 90, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations,” is tied to what precedes (end of v. 89) and to what succeeds (end of v. 90). God’s faithfulness through all generations is grounded, as we have seen, in the fact that God’s word stands firm in the heavens, but it is also grounded in God’s creative and providential work: “you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (Ps. 119:90-91). The same omniscient, ordering, reflective mind stands behind both creation and revelation.

(3) Far from being oppressive and limiting, the instruction of God is freeing and illuminating. “To all perfection I see a limit,” the psalmist writes; “but your commands are boundless” (Ps. 119:96). All human, earthly enterprises face limits. There are limitations on resources, on time, on the expanse of life that we may devote to such enterprises. Only so much time can be devoted to even the most sublime exercise. The limits themselves become frustrating barriers. More than one commentator has noted that this verse is almost a two-line summary of Ecclesiastes. There, every enterprise “under the sun” runs its race and expires, or proves unsatisfying and transient. In our experience there is but one exception: “your commands are boundless” (Ps. 119:96).

This includes more than the well-known paradox: slavery to God is perfect freedom. For a start, freedom must be defined. If our steps are directed to God’s word, there is freedom from sin (cf. Ps. 119:133); observance of God’s “precepts” is tied to walking about in “freedom” (Ps. 119:45). Moreover, reflection on and conformity with God’s words generates not narrow-minded bigotry, but a largeness of spirit that potentially stretches outward to the farthest dimensions of the mind of God; for “your commands are boundless.”

Deut. 30

Repentance and Forgiveness

30:1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The Choice of Life and Death

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God1 that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules,2 then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Footnotes

[1] 30:16 Septuagint; Hebrew lacks If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God
[2] 30:16 Or his just decrees

(ESV)

Psalm 119:73-96

Yodh

73   Your hands have made and fashioned me;
    give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74   Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
    because I have hoped in your word.
75   I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76   Let your steadfast love comfort me
    according to your promise to your servant.
77   Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
    for your law is my delight.
78   Let the insolent be put to shame,
    because they have wronged me with falsehood;
    as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79   Let those who fear you turn to me,
    that they may know your testimonies.
80   May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
    that I may not be put to shame!

Kaph

81   My soul longs for your salvation;
    I hope in your word.
82   My eyes long for your promise;
    I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83   For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
    yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84   How long must your servant endure?1
    When will you judge those who persecute me?
85   The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
    they do not live according to your law.
86   All your commandments are sure;
    they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
87   They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88   In your steadfast love give me life,
    that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

Lamedh

89   Forever, O LORD, your word
    is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90   Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
    you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91   By your appointment they stand this day,
    for all things are your servants.
92   If your law had not been my delight,
    I would have perished in my affliction.
93   I will never forget your precepts,
    for by them you have given me life.
94   I am yours; save me,
    for I have sought your precepts.
95   The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
    but I consider your testimonies.
96   I have seen a limit to all perfection,
    but your commandment is exceedingly broad.

Footnotes

[1] 119:84 Hebrew How many are the days of your servant?

(ESV)

Isaiah 57

Israel's Futile Idolatry

57:1   The righteous man perishes,
    and no one lays it to heart;
  devout men are taken away,
    while no one understands.
  For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
    he enters into peace;
  they rest in their beds
    who walk in their uprightness.
  But you, draw near,
    sons of the sorceress,
    offspring of the adulterer and the loose woman.
  Whom are you mocking?
    Against whom do you open your mouth wide
    and stick out your tongue?
  Are you not children of transgression,
    the offspring of deceit,
  you who burn with lust among the oaks,1
    under every green tree,
  who slaughter your children in the valleys,
    under the clefts of the rocks?
  Among the smooth stones of the valley is your portion;
    they, they, are your lot;
  to them you have poured out a drink offering,
    you have brought a grain offering.
    Shall I relent for these things?
  On a high and lofty mountain
    you have set your bed,
    and there you went up to offer sacrifice.
  Behind the door and the doorpost
    you have set up your memorial;
  for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed,
    you have gone up to it,
    you have made it wide;
  and you have made a covenant for yourself with them,
    you have loved their bed,
    you have looked on nakedness.2
  You journeyed to the king with oil
    and multiplied your perfumes;
  you sent your envoys far off,
    and sent down even to Sheol.
10   You were wearied with the length of your way,
    but you did not say, “It is hopeless”;
  you found new life for your strength,
    and so you were not faint.3
11   Whom did you dread and fear,
    so that you lied,
  and did not remember me,
    did not lay it to heart?
  Have I not held my peace, even for a long time,
    and you do not fear me?
12   I will declare your righteousness and your deeds,
    but they will not profit you.
13   When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
  But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain.

Comfort for the Contrite

14   And it shall be said,
  “Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction from my people's way.”
15   For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
  “I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
  to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16   For I will not contend forever,
    nor will I always be angry;
  for the spirit would grow faint before me,
    and the breath of life that I made.
17   Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
    I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
    but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18   I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
    I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19     creating the fruit of the lips.
  Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD,
    “and I will heal him.
20   But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
    for it cannot be quiet,
    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21   There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Footnotes

[1] 57:5 Or among the terebinths
[2] 57:8 Or on a monument (see 56:5); Hebrew on a hand
[3] 57:10 Hebrew and so you were not sick

(ESV)

Matthew 5

The Sermon on the Mount

5:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons1 of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that2 they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Anger

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother3 will be liable to judgment; whoever insults4 his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell5 of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.6

Lust

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Oaths

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.7

Retaliation

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,8 let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Love Your Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,9 what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Footnotes

[1] 5:9 Greek huioi; see Preface
[2] 5:16 Or house. 16Let your light so shine before others that
[3] 5:22 Some manuscripts insert without cause
[4] 5:22 Greek says Raca to (a term of abuse)
[5] 5:22 Greek Gehenna; also verses 29, 30
[6] 5:26 Greek kodrantes, Roman copper coin (Latin quadrans) worth about 1/64 of a denarius (which was a day's wage for a laborer)
[7] 5:37 Or the evil one
[8] 5:40 Greek chiton, a long garment worn under the cloak next to the skin
[9] 5:47 Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters

(ESV)