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Today’s Reading

Devotional

Here the passages from Deuteronomy 27–28 and Psalm 119, just referenced, converge.

The setting envisaged by Deuteronomy 27–28 is spectacular. When the Israelites enter the Promised Land, they are to perform a solemn act of national commitment. They are to divide themselves into two vast companies, each hundreds of thousands strong. Six tribes are to stand on the slopes of Mount Gerizim. Across the valley, the other six tribes are to stand on the slopes of Mount Ebal. The two vast crowds are to call back and forth in antiphonal responses. For some parts of this ceremony, the Levites, standing with others on Gerizim, are to pronounce prescribed sentences, and the entire host shout its “Amen!” In other parts, the crown on Gerizim would shout the blessings of obedience, and the crowd on Ebal would shout the curses of disobedience. The sheer dramatic impact of this event, when it was actually carried out (Josh. 8:30-33), must have been astounding. The aim of the entire exercise was to impress on the people the utter seriousness with which the Word of God must be taken if the blessing of God is to be enjoyed, and the terrible tragedy that flows from disobedience, which secures only God’s curse.

Psalm 119 is formally very different, but here too there is an extraordinary emphasis on the Word of God. It is almost as if this longest of all biblical chapters is devoted to unpacking what the second verse in the book of Psalms means: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2; see also the April 1 meditation). Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem: each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet is given its turn to serve as the opening letter of each of eight verses on the subject of the Word of God.

Throughout this poem, eight near synonyms are used to refer to Scripture: law (which perhaps might better be rendered “instruction,” and has overtones of revelation), statutes (which speak of the binding force of Scripture), precepts (connected with God’s superintending oversight, as of one who cares for the details of his charge), decrees (the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge), word (the most comprehensive term, perhaps, embracing all of God’s self-disclosed truth, whether in a promise, story, statute, or command), commands (predicated on God’s authority to tell his creatures what to do), promise (a word derived from the verb to say, but often used in contexts that make us think of the English word promise), and testimonies. (God’s bold action of bearing “witness” or “testimony” to the truth and against all that is false; the Hebrew word is sometimes rendered “statute” in NIV, e.g., lit. “I delight in your testimonies.”)

Deuteronomy 27:1-28:19

The Altar on Mount Ebal

27:1 Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut1 stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”

Curses from Mount Ebal

Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, “Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God. 10 You shall therefore obey the voice of the LORD your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today.”

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the LORD, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor's landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness.’2 And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Blessings for Obedience

28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

Curses for Disobedience

15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. 16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. 17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

Footnotes

[1] 27:6 Hebrew whole
[2] 27:20 Hebrew uncovered his father's skirt

(ESV)

Psalm 119:1-24

Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet

Aleph

119:1   1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the LORD!
  Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
  who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways!
  You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
  Oh that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!
  Then I shall not be put to shame,
    having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
  I will praise you with an upright heart,
    when I learn your righteous rules.2
  I will keep your statutes;
    do not utterly forsake me!

Beth

  How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.
10   With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!
11   I have stored up your word in my heart,
    that I might not sin against you.
12   Blessed are you, O LORD;
    teach me your statutes!
13   With my lips I declare
    all the rules3 of your mouth.
14   In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.
15   I will meditate on your precepts
    and fix my eyes on your ways.
16   I will delight in your statutes;
    I will not forget your word.

Gimel

17   Deal bountifully with your servant,
    that I may live and keep your word.
18   Open my eyes, that I may behold
    wondrous things out of your law.
19   I am a sojourner on the earth;
    hide not your commandments from me!
20   My soul is consumed with longing
    for your rules4 at all times.
21   You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
    who wander from your commandments.
22   Take away from me scorn and contempt,
    for I have kept your testimonies.
23   Even though princes sit plotting against me,
    your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24   Your testimonies are my delight;
    they are my counselors.

Footnotes

[1] 119:1 This psalm is an acrostic poem of twenty-two stanzas, following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; within a stanza, each verse begins with the same Hebrew letter
[2] 119:7 Or your just and righteous decrees; also verses 62, 106, 160, 164
[3] 119:13 Or all the just decrees
[4] 119:20 Or your just decrees; also verses 30, 39, 43, 52, 75, 102, 108, 137, 156, 175

(ESV)

Isaiah 54

The Eternal Covenant of Peace

54:1   “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
    break forth into singing and cry aloud,
    you who have not been in labor!
  For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD.
  “Enlarge the place of your tent,
    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
  do not hold back; lengthen your cords
    and strengthen your stakes.
  For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
    and your offspring will possess the nations
    and will people the desolate cities.
  “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
    be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
  for you will forget the shame of your youth,
    and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
  For your Maker is your husband,
    the LORD of hosts is his name;
  and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
    the God of the whole earth he is called.
  For the LORD has called you
    like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
  like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
    says your God.
  For a brief moment I deserted you,
    but with great compassion I will gather you.
  In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
  but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the LORD, your Redeemer.
  “This is like the days of Noah1 to me:
    as I swore that the waters of Noah
    should no more go over the earth,
  so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
    and will not rebuke you.
10   For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
  but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
    says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
11   “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
    behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
    and lay your foundations with sapphires.2
12   I will make your pinnacles of agate,3
    your gates of carbuncles,4
    and all your wall of precious stones.
13   All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
    and great shall be the peace of your children.
14   In righteousness you shall be established;
    you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
    and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
15   If anyone stirs up strife,
    it is not from me;
  whoever stirs up strife with you
    shall fall because of you.
16   Behold, I have created the smith
    who blows the fire of coals
    and produces a weapon for its purpose.
  I have also created the ravager to destroy;
17     no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
  This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD
    and their vindication5 from me, declares the LORD.”

Footnotes

[1] 54:9 Some manuscripts For this is as the waters of Noah
[2] 54:11 Or lapis lazuli
[3] 54:12 Or jasper, or ruby
[4] 54:12 Or crystal
[5] 54:17 Or righteousness

(ESV)

Matthew 2

The Visit of the Wise Men

2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men1 from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose2 and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

  “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
  for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

The Flight to Egypt

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Herod Kills the Children

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

18   “A voice was heard in Ramah,
    weeping and loud lamentation,
  Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

The Return to Nazareth

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Footnotes

[1] 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16
[2] 2:2 Or in the east; also verse 9

(ESV)