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Today’s Reading

Devotional

A few years ago I spent some time in a certain so-called “third world” country, well known for its abject poverty. What struck me most forcibly about the culture of that country, however, was not its poverty, nor the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor — I had read up enough on these points that I was not surprised, and I had witnessed similar tragedies elsewhere — but its ubiquitous, endemic corruption.

Here in the West, we are not well placed to wag a finger. Doubtless we have less overt bribery; doubtless we have published prices for many government services that make bribes and kickbacks a little more difficult to institutionalize; doubtless there is still enough Christian heritage that at least on paper we avow that honesty is a good thing, that a man or woman’s word should be his or her bond, that greed is evil — though very often such values are nowadays honored rather more in the breach than in reality. Even so , we are by far the most litigious nation in the world. We produce far more lawyers than engineers (the reverse of Japan). The simplest agreement nowadays must be surrounded by mounds of legalese protecting the participants. A fair bit of this stems from the fact that many individuals and companies will not keep their word, will not try to do the right thing, and will try to rip off the other party if they can get away with it. A lie is embarrassing only if you are caught. Promises and pledges become devices to get what you want, rather than commitments to truth. Solemn marriage vows are discarded on a whim, or dissolved in the heat of lust. And of course, if we easily abandon marriage covenants, business covenants, and personal covenants, it is equally easy to abandon the covenant with God.

Telling the truth and keeping one’s promises in one domain of life spill over into other domains; conversely, infidelity in one arena commonly spills over into other arenas. So, nestled within the Mosaic covenant are these words: “This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Num. 30:1-2). The rest of the chapter recognizes that such oaths by individuals may not be merely individual matters; there may be spousal or family entailments. So for the right ordering of the culture, God himself sets forth who, under this covenant, is permitted to ratify or set aside a pledge; that pattern says something about headship and responsibility in the family. But the fundamental issue is one of truth-telling and fidelity.

Numbers 30

Men and Vows

30:1 Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the LORD has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

Women and Vows

“If a woman vows a vow to the LORD and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the LORD will forgive her, because her father opposed her.

“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the LORD will forgive her. (But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her.) 10 And if she vowed in her husband's house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, 11 and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. 12 But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the LORD will forgive her. 13 Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself,1 her husband may establish,2 or her husband may make void. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. 15 But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.”

16 These are the statutes that the LORD commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father's house.

Footnotes

[1] 30:13 Or to fast
[2] 30:13 Or may allow to stand

(ESV)

Psalm 74

Arise, O God, Defend Your Cause

A Maskil1 of Asaph.

74:1   O God, why do you cast us off forever?
    Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
  Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
    which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
    Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.
  Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
    the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
  Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;
    they set up their own signs for signs.
  They were like those who swing axes
    in a forest of trees.2
  And all its carved wood
    they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
  They set your sanctuary on fire;
    they profaned the dwelling place of your name,
    bringing it down to the ground.
  They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
    they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
  We do not see our signs;
    there is no longer any prophet,
    and there is none among us who knows how long.
10   How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11   Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of your garment3 and destroy them!
12   Yet God my King is from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13   You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the heads of the sea monsters4 on the waters.
14   You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
    you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15   You split open springs and brooks;
    you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16   Yours is the day, yours also the night;
    you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
17   You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
    you have made summer and winter.
18   Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs,
    and a foolish people reviles your name.
19   Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
    do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20   Have regard for the covenant,
    for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21   Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
    let the poor and needy praise your name.
22   Arise, O God, defend your cause;
    remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
23   Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
    the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!

Footnotes

[1] 74:1 Probably a musical or liturgical term
[2] 74:5 The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain
[3] 74:11 Hebrew from your bosom
[4] 74:13 Or the great sea creatures

(ESV)

Isaiah 22

An Oracle Concerning Jerusalem

22:1 The oracle concerning the valley of vision.

  What do you mean that you have gone up,
    all of you, to the housetops,
  you who are full of shoutings,
    tumultuous city, exultant town?
  Your slain are not slain with the sword
    or dead in battle.
  All your leaders have fled together;
    without the bow they were captured.
  All of you who were found were captured,
    though they had fled far away.
  Therefore I said:
  “Look away from me;
    let me weep bitter tears;
  do not labor to comfort me
    concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
  For the Lord GOD of hosts has a day
    of tumult and trampling and confusion
    in the valley of vision,
  a battering down of walls
    and a shouting to the mountains.
  And Elam bore the quiver
    with chariots and horsemen,
    and Kir uncovered the shield.
  Your choicest valleys were full of chariots,
    and the horsemen took their stand at the gates.
  He has taken away the covering of Judah.

In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, 10 and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. 11 You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.

12   In that day the Lord GOD of hosts
    called for weeping and mourning,
    for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
13   and behold, joy and gladness,
    killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
    eating flesh and drinking wine.
  “Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
14   The LORD of hosts has revealed himself in my ears:
  “Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,”
    says the Lord GOD of hosts.

15 Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you 18 and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. There you shall die, and there shall be your glorious chariots, you shame of your master's house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father's house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father's house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the LORD has spoken.”

(ESV)

2 Peter 3

The Day of the Lord Will Come

3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,1 not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies2 will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.3

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Final Words

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Footnotes

[1] 3:9 Some manuscripts on your account
[2] 3:10 Or elements; also verse 12
[3] 3:10 Greek found; some manuscripts will be burned up

(ESV)