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Today’s Reading

Devotional

There are few passages in the Pentateuch which on first reading are more discouraging than the outcome of Numbers 20:1–13.

Yet the account carries some subtle complexities. It begins with more of the usual griping. The need of the people is real: they are thirsty (20:2). But instead of humbly seeking the Lord in joyous confidence that he would provide for his own people, they quarrel with Moses and charge him with the usual: they were better off in slavery, their current life in the desert is unbearable, and so forth.

Moses and Aaron seek the Lord’s face. The glory of God appears to them (20:6). God specifically says, “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (20:8). But Moses has had it. He assembles the crowd and cries, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (20:10) — which rhetorical question, at its face value, is more than a little pretentious. Then he strikes the rock twice, and water gushes out. But the Lord tells Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (20:12).

Three observations:

(1) God does not say, “Because you did not obey me enough . . . ” but “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy . . .” There was, of course, formal disobedience: God said to speak, and Moses struck the rock. But God perceives that the problem is deeper yet. The people have worn Moses down, and Moses responds in kind. His response is not only the striking of the rock, it is the answer of a man who under pressure has become bitter and pretentious (which is certainly not to say that any of us would have done any better!). What has evaporated is transparent trust in God: God is not being honored as holy.

(2) Read the Pentateuch as a whole: the final point is that Moses does not enter the land. Read the first seven books of the Old Testament: one cannot fail to see that the old covenant had not transformed the people. Canonically, that is an important lesson: the Law was never adequate to save and transform.

(3) In light of 1 Corinthians 10:4, which shows Christ to be the antitype of the rock, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the reason God had insisted the rock be struck in Exodus 17:1–7, and forbids it here, is that he perceives a wonderful opportunity to make a symbol-laden point: the ultimate Rock, from whom life-giving streams flow, is struck once, and no more.

Numbers 20

The Death of Miriam

20:1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.

The Waters of Meribah

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.

Moses Strikes the Rock

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah,1 where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD, and through them he showed himself holy.

Edom Refuses Passage

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: 15 how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. 16 And when we cried to the LORD, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King's Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” 18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” 19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

The Death of Aaron

22 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” 27 Moses did as the LORD commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.

Footnotes

[1] 20:13 Meribah means quarreling

(ESV)

Psalms 58–59

God Who Judges the Earth

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam1 of David.

58:1   Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?2
    Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
  No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
    your hands deal out violence on earth.
  The wicked are estranged from the womb;
    they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
    like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
  so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter.
  O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
  Let them vanish like water that runs away;
    when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
  Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
    like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
  Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
    whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!3
10   The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11   Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

Deliver Me from My Enemies

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam4 of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.

59:1   Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
    protect me from those who rise up against me;
  deliver me from those who work evil,
    and save me from bloodthirsty men.
  For behold, they lie in wait for my life;
    fierce men stir up strife against me.
  For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
    for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.
  Awake, come to meet me, and see!
    You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel.
  Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;
    spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
  Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
  There they are, bellowing with their mouths
    with swords in their lips—
    for “Who,” they think,5 “will hear us?”
  But you, O LORD, laugh at them;
    you hold all the nations in derision.
  O my Strength, I will watch for you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress.
10   My God in his steadfast love6 will meet me;
    God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
11   Kill them not, lest my people forget;
    make them totter7 by your power and bring them down,
    O Lord, our shield!
12   For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips,
    let them be trapped in their pride.
  For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13     consume them in wrath;
    consume them till they are no more,
  that they may know that God rules over Jacob
    to the ends of the earth. Selah
14   Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
15   They wander about for food
    and growl if they do not get their fill.
16   But I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
  For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17   O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love.

Footnotes

[1] 58:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[2] 58:1 Or you mighty lords (by revocalization; Hebrew in silence)
[3] 58:9 The meaning of the Hebrew verse is uncertain
[4] 59:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[5] 59:7 Hebrew lacks they think
[6] 59:10 Or The God who shows me steadfast love
[7] 59:11 Or wander

(ESV)

Isaiah 9:8–10:4

Judgment on Arrogance and Oppression

  The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
    and it will fall on Israel;
  and all the people will know,
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
    who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10   “The bricks have fallen,
    but we will build with dressed stones;
  the sycamores have been cut down,
    but we will put cedars in their place.”
11   But the LORD raises the adversaries of Rezin against him,
    and stirs up his enemies.
12   The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west
    devour Israel with open mouth.
  For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.
13   The people did not turn to him who struck them,
    nor inquire of the LORD of hosts.
14   So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—
15   the elder and honored man is the head,
    and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail;
16   for those who guide this people have been leading them astray,
    and those who are guided by them are swallowed up.
17   Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men,
    and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows;
  for everyone is godless and an evildoer,
    and every mouth speaks folly.1
  For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.
18   For wickedness burns like a fire;
    it consumes briers and thorns;
  it kindles the thickets of the forest,
    and they roll upward in a column of smoke.
19   Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts
    the land is scorched,
  and the people are like fuel for the fire;
    no one spares another.
20   They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry,
    and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied;
  each devours the flesh of his own arm,
21   Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh;
    together they are against Judah.
  For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.
10:1   Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
    and the writers who keep writing oppression,
  to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
  that widows may be their spoil,
    and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
  What will you do on the day of punishment,
    in the ruin that will come from afar?
  To whom will you flee for help,
    and where will you leave your wealth?
  Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
    or fall among the slain.
  For all this his anger has not turned away,
    and his hand is stretched out still.

Footnotes

[1] 9:17 Or speaks disgraceful things

(ESV)

James 3

Taming the Tongue

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,1 and set on fire by hell.2 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,3 these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Wisdom from Above

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Footnotes

[1] 3:6 Or wheel of birth
[2] 3:6 Greek Gehenna
[3] 3:10 Or brothers and sisters; also verse 12

(ESV)