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Today’s Reading

Devotional

Two more wretched episodes of rebellion now blemish the history of the Israelites in the wilderness (Num. 16).

The first is the plot engineered by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. They stir up trouble not among the riffraff, but among a sizable number of community leaders, about 250 of them. The heart of their criticism against Moses is twofold: (a) They think he has taken too much on himself. “The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them” (16:3). Moses has no right to set himself above “the LORD’s assembly” (16:3). (b) The track record of Moses’s ministry is so sullied by failure that he cannot be trusted. He brought them out of “a land flowing with milk and honey” (16:13), promising them much, but in reality leading them into the desert. So why on earth should he “lord it over” the people? (16:13)

Their reasoning would have a certain believability among those who focused on their hardships, who resented all authority, who had short memories of how they had been rescued from Egypt, who did not value all that God had carefully revealed, and who were swayed by the instant appeal of rhetoric but who did not value their own solemn covenantal vows. Their descendants are numerous today. In the name of the priesthood of all believers and of the truth that the whole Christian community is holy, other things that God has said about Christian leaders are rapidly skirted. Behind these pretensions of fairness lies, very often, naked lust for power, nurtured by resentments.

Of course, not every leader in the Christian church is to be treated with equal deference: some are self-promoted upstarts that the church is to get rid of (e.g., 2 Cor. 10–13). Nor are all who protest cursed with the judgment that fell on Korah and his friends: some, like Luther and Calvin, like Whitefield and Wesley, and like Paul and Amos before them, are genuine reformers. But in an anti-authoritarian age like ours, one should always check to see if the would-be reformers are shaped by passionate devotion to the words of God, or simply manipulate those words for their own selfish ends.

In the second rebellion, the “whole Israelite community” (16:41), fed by pathetic resentments, mutters against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of having killed the rebels the day before — as if they could have opened the ground to swallow them up. Thousands perish because the community as a whole still has not come to grips with God’s holiness, the exclusiveness of his claims, the inevitability of his wrath against rebels, his just refusal to be treated with contempt.

And why should our generation be spared?

Numbers 16

Korah's Rebellion

16:1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his,1 and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense on them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, 10 and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?”

12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? 14 Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” 15 And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.”

16 And Moses said to Korah, “Be present, you and all your company, before the LORD, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow. 17 And let every one of you take his censer and put incense on it, and every one of you bring before the LORD his censer, 250 censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.” 18 So every man took his censer and put fire in them and laid incense on them and stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.

20 And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” 22 And they fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” 23 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Say to the congregation, Get away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.”

25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.” 27 So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. 28 And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. 29 If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.”

31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. 32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up!” 35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.

36 2 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Tell Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest to take up the censers out of the blaze. Then scatter the fire far and wide, for they have become holy. 38 As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they offered them before the LORD, and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the people of Israel.” 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned had offered, and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar, 40 to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become like Korah and his company—as the LORD said to him through Moses.

41 But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” 42 And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting. And behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared. 43 And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” And they fell on their faces. 46 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.” 47 So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. 48 And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. 49 Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. 50 And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped.

Footnotes

[1] 16:5 Septuagint The Lord knows those who are his
[2] 16:36 Ch 17:1 in Hebrew

(ESV)

Psalms 52–54

The Steadfast Love of God Endures

To the choirmaster. A Maskil1 of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”

52:1   Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
    The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
  Your tongue plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
  You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
  You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue.
  But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
  The righteous shall see and fear,
    and shall laugh at him, saying,
  “See the man who would not make
    God his refuge,
  but trusted in the abundance of his riches
    and sought refuge in his own destruction!”2
  But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
  I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
  I will thank you forever,
    because you have done it.
  I will wait for your name, for it is good,
    in the presence of the godly.

There Is None Who Does Good

To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil3 of David.

53:1   The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good.
  God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
  to see if there are any who understand,4
    who seek after God.
  They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
  there is none who does good,
    not even one.
  Have those who work evil no knowledge,
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon God?
  There they are, in great terror,
    where there is no terror!
  For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you;
    you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.
  Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The Lord Upholds My Life

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Maskil5 of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “Is not David hiding among us?”

54:1   O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
  O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.
  For strangers6 have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah
  Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
  He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.
  With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
  For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

Footnotes

[1] 52:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[2] 52:7 Or in his work of destruction
[3] 53:1 Probably musical or liturgical terms
[4] 53:2 Or who act wisely
[5] 54:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[6] 54:3 Some Hebrew manuscripts and Targum insolent men (compare Psalm 86:14)

(ESV)

Isaiah 6

Isaiah's Vision of the Lord

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train1 of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
  the whole earth is full of his glory!”2

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah's Commission from the Lord

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

  “‘Keep on hearing,3 but do not understand;
  keep on seeing,4 but do not perceive.’
10   Make the heart of this people dull,5
    and their ears heavy,
    and blind their eyes;
  lest they see with their eyes,
    and hear with their ears,
  and understand with their hearts,
    and turn and be healed.”
11   Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
  And he said:
  “Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
  and houses without people,
    and the land is a desolate waste,
12   and the LORD removes people far away,
    and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13   And though a tenth remain in it,
    it will be burned6 again,
  like a terebinth or an oak,
    whose stump remains
    when it is felled.”
  The holy seed7 is its stump.

Footnotes

[1] 6:1 Or hem
[2] 6:3 Or may his glory fill the whole earth
[3] 6:9 Or Hear indeed
[4] 6:9 Or see indeed
[5] 6:10 Hebrew fat
[6] 6:13 Or purged
[7] 6:13 Or offspring

(ESV)

Hebrews 13

Sacrifices Pleasing to God

13:1 Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

  “The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
  what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent1 have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us2 that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Final Greetings

22 I appeal to you, brothers,3 bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

Footnotes

[1] 13:10 Or tabernacle
[2] 13:21 Some manuscripts you
[3] 13:22 Or brothers and sisters

(ESV)