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Today’s Reading

Devotional

The account of the Gibeonite deception (Josh. 9) has its slightly amusing elements, as well as its serious point. There are the Israelites, poking around in moldy bread and holding serious conversations about the distance these emissaries must have traveled. Yet the sad fact is that they were snookered. What lessons should we learn from this?

First, many believers who have the courage to withstand direct assault do not have the sense to withstand deception. That is why in Revelation 13 the dragon has two beasts — one whose opposition is overt and cruel, and the other who is identified as the false prophet (see the meditation for December 22). That is also why in Acts 20 Paul warns the Ephesian elders not only of rapacious wolves that will try to ravage the flock of God, but also of the fact that from among their own number men will arise who will “distort the truth” (Acts 20:30). Such people never announce what they are doing: “We are now going to distort the truth!” The danger they represent lies in the fact that they are viewed as “safe,” and then from this secure vantage they advocate “progressive” positions that distort the Gospel. The deceptive power may be tied to such overt tricks as flattery — the very device used by the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:9-10). In our day, deception becomes all the easier to arrange because so many Christians are no longer greatly shaped by Scripture. It is difficult to unmask subtle error when it aligns with the culture, deploys spiritual God-talk, piously cites a passage or two, and “works.”

Second, the failure depicted in 9:14 has haunted many believers, and not only the ancient Israelites: “the men of Israel sampled their [the Gibeonites’] provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.” Doubtless their inquiring of the Lord would have been direct; perhaps the priests would have resorted to Urim and Thummim (see meditation for March 17). We shall never know, because the people felt they did not need the Lord’s guidance. Perhaps the flattery had made them cocksure. The fact that their decision was based on their estimate of how far these Gibeonites had come makes it obvious that they were aware of the danger of treaties with the Canaanites. The failure must therefore not be taken as a mere breach of devotions that day, a hastiness that forgot a magic step. The problem is deeper: there is an unseemly negligence that betrays an overconfidence that does not think it needs God in this case. Many a Christian leader has made disastrous mistakes when he or she has not taken time to seek God’s perspective, probing Scripture and asking him for the wisdom he has promised to give (James 1:5).

Joshua 9

The Gibeonite Deception

9:1 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.” But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. 15 And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

16 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. 17 And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. 18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” 21 And the leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them.

22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

(ESV)

Psalms 140–141

Deliver Me, O Lord, from Evil Men

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

140:1   Deliver me, O LORD, from evil men;
    preserve me from violent men,
  who plan evil things in their heart
    and stir up wars continually.
  They make their tongue sharp as a serpent's,
    and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah
  Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
    preserve me from violent men,
    who have planned to trip up my feet.
  The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
    and with cords they have spread a net;1
    beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah
  I say to the LORD, You are my God;
    give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O LORD!
  O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
    you have covered my head in the day of battle.
  Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their2 evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah
  As for the head of those who surround me,
    let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10   Let burning coals fall upon them!
    Let them be cast into fire,
    into miry pits, no more to rise!
11   Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
    let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
12   I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
    and will execute justice for the needy.
13   Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
    the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Give Ear to My Voice

A Psalm of David.

141:1   O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me!
    Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
  Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
    and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
  Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
    keep watch over the door of my lips!
  Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
    to busy myself with wicked deeds
  in company with men who work iniquity,
    and let me not eat of their delicacies!
  Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
    let my head not refuse it.
  Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.
  When their judges are thrown over the cliff,3
    then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.
  As when one plows and breaks up the earth,
    so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.4
  But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord;
    in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!5
  Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
    and from the snares of evildoers!
10   Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
    while I pass by safely.

Footnotes

[1] 140:5 Or they have spread cords as a net
[2] 140:8 Hebrew his
[3] 141:6 Or When their judges fall into the hands of the Rock
[4] 141:7 The meaning of the Hebrew in verses 6, 7 is uncertain
[5] 141:8 Hebrew refuge; do not pour out my life!

(ESV)

Jeremiah 3

3:1   “If1 a man divorces his wife
    and she goes from him
  and becomes another man's wife,
    will he return to her?
  Would not that land be greatly polluted?
  You have played the whore with many lovers;
    and would you return to me?
      declares the LORD.
  Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
    Where have you not been ravished?
  By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
    like an Arab in the wilderness.
  You have polluted the land
    with your vile whoredom.
  Therefore the showers have been withheld,
    and the spring rain has not come;
  yet you have the forehead of a whore;
    you refuse to be ashamed.
  Have you not just now called to me,
    ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth—
  will he be angry forever,
    will he be indignant to the end?’
  Behold, you have spoken,
    but you have done all the evil that you could.”

Faithless Israel Called to Repentance

The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: “Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the LORD.”

11 And the LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,

  “‘Return, faithless Israel,
      declares the LORD.
  I will not look on you in anger,
    for I am merciful,
      declares the LORD;
  I will not be angry forever.
13   Only acknowledge your guilt,
    that you rebelled against the LORD your God
  and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree,
    and that you have not obeyed my voice,
      declares the LORD.
14   Return, O faithless children,
      declares the LORD;
    for I am your master;
  I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
    and I will bring you to Zion.

15 “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers for a heritage.

19   “‘I said,
    How I would set you among my sons,
  and give you a pleasant land,
    a heritage most beautiful of all nations.
  And I thought you would call me, My Father,
    and would not turn from following me.
20   Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband,
    so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel,
      declares the LORD.’”
21   A voice on the bare heights is heard,
    the weeping and pleading of Israel's sons
  because they have perverted their way;
    they have forgotten the LORD their God.
22   “Return, O faithless sons;
    I will heal your faithlessness.”
  “Behold, we come to you,
    for you are the LORD our God.
23   Truly the hills are a delusion,
    the orgies2 on the mountains.
  Truly in the LORD our God
    is the salvation of Israel.

24 “But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. 25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”

Footnotes

[1] 3:1 Septuagint, Syriac; Hebrew Saying, “If
[2] 3:23 Hebrew commotion

(ESV)

Matthew 17

The Transfiguration

17:1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,1 with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon,2 and it3 came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.4 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”5

Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection

22 As they were gathering6 in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.

The Temple Tax

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.7 Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

Footnotes

[1] 17:5 Or my Son, my (or the) Beloved
[2] 17:18 Greek it
[3] 17:18 Greek the demon
[4] 17:18 Greek from that hour
[5] 17:20 Some manuscripts insert verse 21: But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting
[6] 17:22 Some manuscripts remained
[7] 17:27 Greek stater, a silver coin worth four drachmas or approximately one shekel

(ESV)