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Today’s Reading

Devotional

This passage, Genesis 12, marks a turning point in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. From now on, the focus of God’s dealings is not scattered individuals, but a race, a nation. This is the turning point that makes the Old Testament documents so profoundly Jewish. And ultimately, out of this race come law, priests, wisdom, patterns of relationships between God and his covenant people, oracles, prophecies, laments, psalms—a rich array of institutions and texts that point forward, in ways that become increasingly clear, to a new covenant foretold by Israel’s prophets.

Even in this initial covenant with Abram, God includes a promise that already expands the horizons beyond Israel, a promise that repeatedly surfaces in the Bible. God tells Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (12:3). Lest we miss its importance, the book of Genesis repeats it (18:18; 22:18; 16:4; 28:14). A millennium later, the same promise is refocused not on the nation as a whole, but on one of Israel’s great kings: “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (Ps. 72:17). The “evangelical prophet” often articulates the same breadth of vision (e.g., Isa. 19:23–25). The earliest preaching in the church, after the resurrection of Jesus, understood that the salvation Jesus had introduced was a fulfillment of this promise to Abraham (Acts 3:25). The apostle Paul makes the same connection (Gal. 3:8).

Even when the passage in Genesis is not explicitly cited, the same stance—that God’s ultimate intentions were from the beginning to bring men and women from every race into the new humanity he was forming—surfaces in a hundred ways. In fact, quite apart from this passage, two of the three remaining passages in today’s readings point in the same direction. In Matthew 11:20–24, Jesus makes it clear, in disturbing language, that on the last day pagan cities, though punished, may be punished less severely than the cities of Israel who enjoyed the unfathomable privilege of hearing Jesus for themselves, and seeing his miracles, but who made nothing of it. His own invitation is broad: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). And in Acts 11, Peter recounts his experiences with Cornelius and his household to the church in Jerusalem, leading them to conclude, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).

Christ receives the unrestrained praise of heaven, because with his blood he purchased people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Genesis 12

The Call of Abram

12:1 Now the LORD said1 to Abram, “Go from your country2 and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”3

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak4 of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Abram and Sarai in Egypt

10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.

Footnotes

[1] 12:1 Or had said
[2] 12:1 Or land
[3] 12:3 Or by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves
[4] 12:6 Or terebinth

(ESV)

Matthew 11

Messengers from John the Baptist

11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers1 are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man2 dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?3 Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

  “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,4 and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear,5 let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17   “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”6

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.7 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Footnotes

[1] 11:5 Leprosy was a term for several skin diseases; see Leviticus 13
[2] 11:8 Or Why then did you go out? To see a man . . .
[3] 11:9 Some manuscripts Why then did you go out? To see a prophet?
[4] 11:12 Or has been coming violently
[5] 11:15 Some manuscripts omit to hear
[6] 11:19 Some manuscripts children (compare Luke 7:35)
[7] 11:26 Or for so it pleased you well

(ESV)

Nehemiah 1

Report from Jerusalem

1:1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

Nehemiah's Prayer

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.

(ESV)

Acts 11

Peter Reports to the Church

11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers1 who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party2 criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

The Church in Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists3 also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers4 living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Footnotes

[1] 11:1 Or brothers and sisters
[2] 11:2 Or Jerusalem, those of the circumcision
[3] 11:20 Or Greeks (that is, Greek-speaking non-Jews)
[4] 11:29 Or brothers and sisters

(ESV)

Resources

Why Nehemiah?

Why Nehemiah? It speaks right into today. In any corner of the globe.