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Today’s Reading

Devotional: 1 John 5

Most people who have read 1 John a few times know that John discusses a number of evidences (some commentators call them “tests” or “tests of life”) that clarify who truly is a Christian. Most people see three tests: (a) a test of truth, in particular the truth that Jesus is the Son of God; (b) a test of obedience, in particular obedience to the commands of Jesus; (c) a test of love, in particular love for our brothers and sisters. The danger lies in thinking that these “tests” somehow make independent contributions, as if a person might hope to pass two out of three. But toward the end of this epistle, not least in 1 John 5:1–5, these three tests come together in such a way that they are not independent at all. They all hang together.

This paragraph begins with the truth test, with the person “who believes that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 5:1). That person is born of God—a point repeatedly reiterated in John’s writings. But everyone who is born of God will surely love others who have been born of God—spiritual siblings, as it were (1 John 5:1). Thus the truth test is linked, through the new birth, to the love test. How then do we know that we really do love the children of God? Well, first of all, by loving God himself, and then in consequence carrying out his commands (1 John 5:2). Indeed, it is ridiculous to claim to love God and not obey him. So obvious is this that one might go so far as to say that “love for God” is “to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). Of course, John has already reminded his readers that one of Jesus’ central commands, his “new commandment,” is that his disciples love one another (1 John 2:3–11; 3:11–20; cf. John 13:34–35). Thus the love test is tied to the obedience test at several levels.

One must not think that Christianity is nothing more than tough-minded obedience. The truth is that Jesus’ commands “are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), for in the new birth God has given us the power to perform what Jesus commands, the ability to overcome “the world” (1 John 5:4–5; cf. 2:15–17). Who, then, has this power to overcome the world? Those who are born again, those who have genuine faith, of course—and genuine faith is defined in terms of faith’s object, namely the truth that Jesus truly is the Son of God. Thus the test of obedience, and with it the test of love, is tied back to the truth test.

The glorious reality is that, in the Christian way, truth and ethics are tied together. Creedal confession and transformed living go hand in hand. Any other alternative is either superstition or humbug.

Devotional: Numbers 35

When plans were being laid to parcel out the Promised Land to the twelve tribes, Levi was excluded. The Levites were told that God was their inheritance: they would not receive tribal territory, but would be supported by the tithes collected from the rest of the Israelites (Num. 18:20-26). Even so, they needed somewhere to live. So God ordained that each tribe would set aside some towns for the Levites, along with the surrounding pasturelands for their livestock (Num. 35:1-5). Since the Levites were to teach the people the law of God, in addition to their tabernacle duties, these land arrangements had the added advantage of scattering the Levites among the people where they could do the most good. Moreover, their scattered lands were never to pass out of Levitical hands (Lev. 25:32-34).

The other peculiar land arrangement established in this chapter is the designation of six “cities of refuge” (35:6-34). These were to be drawn from the forty -eight towns allotted to the Levites, three on one side of the Jordan, and three on the other. A person who killed another, whether intentionally or accidentally, could flee to one of those cities and be preserved against the wrath of family avengers. At a time when blood feuds were not unknown, this had the effect of cooling the atmosphere until the official justice system could establish the guilt or innocence of the killer. If found guilty on compelling evidence (35:30), the murderer was to be executed. One recalls the principle laid down in Genesis 9:6: those who murder human beings, who are made in the image of God, have done something so vile that the ultimate sanction is mandated. The logic is not one of deterrence, but of values (cf. Num. 35:31-33).

On the other hand, if the killing was accidental and the killer therefore innocent of murder, he cannot simply be discharged and sent home, but must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest (35:25-28). Only at that point could the killer return to his ancestral property and resume a normal life. Waiting for the high priest to die could be a matter of days or of decades. If the time was substantial, it might serve to cool down the avengers from the victim’s family. But no such rationale is provided in the text.

Probably two reasons account for this stipulation that the slayer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. (1) His death marked the end of an era, the beginning of another. (2) More importantly, it may be his death symbolized that someone had to die to pay for the death of one of God’s image-bearers. Christians know where that reasoning leads.

Numbers 35

Cities for the Levites

35:1 The LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to dwell in, and their pasturelands shall be for their cattle and for their livestock and for all their beasts. The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits1 all around. And you shall measure, outside the city, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities.

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands. And as for the cities that you shall give from the possession of the people of Israel, from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites.”

Cities of Refuge

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. 12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. 13 And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there.

16 “But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. 17 And if he struck him down with a stone tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if he struck him down with a wooden tool that could cause death, and he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. 20 And if he pushed him out of hatred or hurled something at him, lying in wait, so that he died, 21 or in enmity struck him down with his hand, so that he died, then he who struck the blow shall be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.

22 “But if he pushed him suddenly without enmity, or hurled anything on him without lying in wait 23 or used a stone that could cause death, and without seeing him dropped it on him, so that he died, though he was not his enemy and did not seek his harm, 24 then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules. 25 And the congregation shall rescue the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he shall live in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil. 26 But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the boundaries of his city of refuge to which he fled, 27 and the avenger of blood finds him outside the boundaries of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood kills the manslayer, he shall not be guilty of blood. 28 For he must remain in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest, but after the death of the high priest the manslayer may return to the land of his possession. 29 And these things shall be for a statute and rule for you throughout your generations in all your dwelling places.

30 “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. 31 Moreover, you shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death. 32 And you shall accept no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the high priest. 33 You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”


[1] 35:4 A cubit was about 18 inches or 45 centimeters


Psalm 79

How Long, O Lord?

A Psalm of Asaph.

79:1   O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple;
    they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
  They have given the bodies of your servants
    to the birds of the heavens for food,
    the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.
  They have poured out their blood like water
    all around Jerusalem,
    and there was no one to bury them.
  We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.
  How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever?
    Will your jealousy burn like fire?
  Pour out your anger on the nations
    that do not know you,
  and on the kingdoms
    that do not call upon your name!
  For they have devoured Jacob
    and laid waste his habitation.
  Do not remember against us our former iniquities;1
    let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
    for we are brought very low.
  Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
  deliver us, and atone for our sins,
    for your name's sake!
10   Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
  Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
    be known among the nations before our eyes!
11   Let the groans of the prisoners come before you;
    according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!
12   Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors
    the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!
13   But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
    will give thanks to you forever;
    from generation to generation we will recount your praise.


[1] 79:8 Or the iniquities of former generations


Isaiah 27

The Redemption of Israel

27:1 In that day the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

  In that day,
  “A pleasant vineyard,1 sing of it!
    I, the LORD, am its keeper;
    every moment I water it.
    Lest anyone punish it,
  I keep it night and day;
    I have no wrath.
  Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
    I would march against them,
    I would burn them up together.
  Or let them lay hold of my protection,
    let them make peace with me,
    let them make peace with me.”
  In days to come2 Jacob shall take root,
    Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
    and fill the whole world with fruit.
  Has he struck them as he struck those who struck them?
    Or have they been slain as their slayers were slain?
  Measure by measure,3 by exile you contended with them;
    he removed them with his fierce breath4 in the day of the east wind.
  Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be atoned for,
    and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin:5
  when he makes all the stones of the altars
    like chalkstones crushed to pieces,
    no Asherim or incense altars will remain standing.
10   For the fortified city is solitary,
    a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness;
  there the calf grazes;
    there it lies down and strips its branches.
11   When its boughs are dry, they are broken;
    women come and make a fire of them.
  For this is a people without discernment;
    therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them;
    he who formed them will show them no favor.

12 In that day from the river Euphrates6 to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. 13 And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.


[1] 27:2 Many Hebrew manuscripts A vineyard of wine
[2] 27:6 Hebrew In those to come
[3] 27:8 Or By driving her away; the meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
[4] 27:8 Or wind
[5] 27:9 Septuagint and this is the blessing when I take away his sin
[6] 27:12 Hebrew from the River


1 John 5

Overcoming the World

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Testimony Concerning the Son of God

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

That You May Know

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God1 will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.


[1] 5:16 Greek he