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Today’s Reading

Devotional: 2 John

Even a cursory reading of 2 John shows that the background to this short epistle overlaps in some measure with the background to 1 John. In both epistles there is a truth question tied to the identity of Jesus Christ. “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world” (2 John 7). These particular deceivers denied “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh”—which, interpreted paraphrastically, means they denied that Jesus was Christ come in the flesh. They introduced a hiatus between the flesh-and-blood Jesus and the “Christ” who came upon him. Thus they denied the essential oneness of Jesus Christ, the God/man, the one who was simultaneously Son of God and human being. There were many sad implications.

The reasons for this doctrinal aberration were bound up with widespread cultural pressures. Suffice it to say that these “deceivers,” these “errorists” (as some have called them), thought of themselves as advanced thinkers, as progressives. They did not see themselves as evaluating the Christian faith and choosing to deny certain cardinal truths, picking and choosing according to some obscure principle. Rather, they saw themselves as providing a true and progressive interpretation of the whole, over against the conservatives and traditionalists who really did not understand the culture. That is why John speaks of them, with heavy irony, as running ahead of the truth: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). John’s stance is much like the old minister who hears some newfangled doctrine and opines,

You say I am not with it.
My friend, I do not doubt it.
But when I see what I’m not with,

I’d rather be without it.

The crucial issue, of course, is not whether one is “progressive” or not, or a “traditionalist” or not: one could be a progressive in a good or a bad sense, and a traditionalist in a good or a bad sense. Such labels, by themselves, are frequently manipulative and rarely add much clarity to complex matters. The real issue is whether or not one is holding to the apostolic Gospel, whether or not one is continuing in the teaching of Christ. That is the perennial test.

Which contemporary movements fail this test, either because they rush “ahead” of the Gospel in their drive to be contemporary or because they have become encrusted with traditions that domesticate the Gospel?

Devotional: Numbers 36

We are first introduced to Zelophehad and his daughters in Numbers 27:1-11. Normally inheritance descended through the sons. But Zelophehad had no sons, only five daughters named Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Zelophehad belonged to the generation that passed away in the desert. Why, the daughters asked Moses, should his family line be prohibited from inheriting just because his progeny were all female? Moses, we are told, “brought their case before the LORD” (Num. 27:5). The Lord not only ruled in favor of the daughters’ petition, but provided a statute that regularized this decision for similar cases throughout Israel (Num. 27:8-11).

But a new wrinkle on this ruling turns up in Numbers 36. The family heads of Manasseh, to which the Zelophehad family belongs, ask what will happen if the daughters marry Israelites outside their tribe. They bring their inheritance with them to the marriage, and it would get passed on to their sons, but their sons would belong to the tribe of their father — and so over the centuries there could be massive redistribution of tribal lands, and potentially major inequities among the tribes. On this point, too, the Lord himself rules (Num. 36:5). “No inheritance may pass from tribe to tribe, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits” (Num. 36:9). The way forward, then, was for the Zelophehad daughters to marry men from their own tribe — a ruling with which the Zelophehad daughters happily comply (Num. 36:10-12).

If this offends our sensibilities, we ought to consider why.

(1) Pragmatically, even we cannot marry anyone: we almost always marry within our own highly limited circles of friends and acquaintances. So in Israel: most people would want to marry within their tribes.

(2) More importantly, we have inherited Western biases in favor of individualism (“I’ll marry whomever I please”) and of falling in love (“We couldn’t help it; it just happened, and we fell in love”). Doubtless there are advantages to these social conventions, but that is what they are: mere social conventions. For the majority of the world’s people, marriages are either arranged by the parents or, more likely, at very least worked out with far more family approval operating than in the West. At what point does our love of freedom dissolve into individualistic self-centeredness, with little concern for the extended family and culture — or in this case for God’s gracious covenantal structure that provided equitable distribution of land?

We live in our own culture, of course, and under a new covenant. And we, too, have biblical restrictions imposed on whom we marry (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:39). More importantly, we must eschew the abominable idolatry of thinking that the universe must dance to our tune.

Numbers 36

Marriage of Female Heirs

36:1 The heads of the fathers' houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers' houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’”

10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the LORD commanded Moses, 11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father's brothers. 12 They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father's clan.

13 These are the commandments and the rules that the LORD commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.


Psalm 80

Restore Us, O God

To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. A Testimony. Of Asaph, a Psalm.

80:1   Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock.
  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.
    Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh,
  stir up your might
    and come to save us!
  Restore us,1 O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved!
  O LORD God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
  You have fed them with the bread of tears
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
  You make us an object of contention for our neighbors,
    and our enemies laugh among themselves.
  Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved!
  You brought a vine out of Egypt;
    you drove out the nations and planted it.
  You cleared the ground for it;
    it took deep root and filled the land.
10   The mountains were covered with its shade,
    the mighty cedars with its branches.
11   It sent out its branches to the sea
    and its shoots to the River.2
12   Why then have you broken down its walls,
    so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13   The boar from the forest ravages it,
    and all that move in the field feed on it.
14   Turn again, O God of hosts!
    Look down from heaven, and see;
  have regard for this vine,
15     the stock that your right hand planted,
    and for the son whom you made strong for yourself.
16   They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down;
    may they perish at the rebuke of your face!
17   But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
    the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
18   Then we shall not turn back from you;
    give us life, and we will call upon your name!
19   Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
    Let your face shine, that we may be saved!


[1] 80:3 Or Turn us again; also verses 7, 19
[2] 80:11 That is, the Euphrates


Isaiah 28

Judgment on Ephraim and Jerusalem

28:1   Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,
    and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!
  Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;
    like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,
  like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,
    he casts down to the earth with his hand.
  The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim
    will be trodden underfoot;
  and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,
    which is on the head of the rich valley,
  will be like a first-ripe fig1 before the summer:
    when someone sees it, he swallows it
    as soon as it is in his hand.
  In that day the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory,2
    and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,
  and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
    and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.
  These also reel with wine
    and stagger with strong drink;
  the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink,
    they are swallowed by3 wine,
    they stagger with strong drink,
  they reel in vision,
    they stumble in giving judgment.
  For all tables are full of filthy vomit,
    with no space left.
  “To whom will he teach knowledge,
    and to whom will he explain the message?
  Those who are weaned from the milk,
    those taken from the breast?
10   For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little.”
11   For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
  the LORD will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
  “This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
  and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear.
13   And the word of the LORD will be to them
  precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
    line upon line, line upon line,
    here a little, there a little,
  that they may go, and fall backward,
    and be broken, and snared, and taken.

A Cornerstone in Zion

14   Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scoffers,
    who rule this people in Jerusalem!
15   Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
    and with Sheol we have an agreement,
  when the overwhelming whip passes through
    it will not come to us,
  for we have made lies our refuge,
    and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;
16   therefore thus says the Lord GOD,
  “Behold, I am the one who has laid4 as a foundation in Zion,
    a stone, a tested stone,
  a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
    ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
17   And I will make justice the line,
    and righteousness the plumb line;
  and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
    and waters will overwhelm the shelter.”
18   Then your covenant with death will be annulled,
    and your agreement with Sheol will not stand;
  when the overwhelming scourge passes through,
    you will be beaten down by it.
19   As often as it passes through it will take you;
    for morning by morning it will pass through,
    by day and by night;
  and it will be sheer terror to understand the message.
20   For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on,
    and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.
21   For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
    as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
  to do his deed—strange is his deed!
    and to work his work—alien is his work!
22   Now therefore do not scoff,
    lest your bonds be made strong;
  for I have heard a decree of destruction
    from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
23   Give ear, and hear my voice;
    give attention, and hear my speech.
24   Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
    Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
25   When he has leveled its surface,
    does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
  and put in wheat in rows
    and barley in its proper place,
    and emmer5 as the border?
26   For he is rightly instructed;
    his God teaches him.
27   Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
    nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
  but dill is beaten out with a stick,
    and cumin with a rod.
28   Does one crush grain for bread?
    No, he does not thresh it forever;6
  when he drives his cart wheel over it
    with his horses, he does not crush it.
29   This also comes from the LORD of hosts;
    he is wonderful in counsel
    and excellent in wisdom.


[1] 28:4 Or fruit
[2] 28:5 The Hebrew words for glory and hosts sound alike
[3] 28:7 Or confused by
[4] 28:16 Dead Sea Scroll I am laying
[5] 28:25 A type of wheat
[6] 28:28 Or Grain is crushed for bread; he will surely thresh it, but not forever


2 John


1:1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:

Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love.

Walking in Truth and Love

I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we1 have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

Final Greetings

12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

13 The children of your elect sister greet you.


[1] 1:8 Some manuscripts you