1 Chronicles 29; 2 Peter 3; Micah 6; Luke 15

Dec 01, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 29; 2 Peter 3; Micah 6; Luke 15

THE CHRONICLER’S ACCOUNT OF David’s death is preceded by the story of the wealthy gifts that would finance temple construction after David’s demise and the prayer David offered in this connection (1 Chron. 29). It is not so much the quantity of money given by David and the others that is striking, as the theology of David’s prayer. The highlights include the following points:

(1) In the opening doxology (1 Chron. 29:10–13), David acknowledges that everything is God’s (1 Chron. 29:11). If we human beings “own” anything, we must frankly confess, “Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things” (1 Chron. 29:12). Hence in the body of the prayer, David says, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chron. 29:14); again, as for all this wealth that is being collected, “it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you” (1 Chron. 29:16). Such a stance utterly destroys any notion of us “giving” something to God in any absolute terms. It becomes a pleasure to give to God, not only because we love him, but because we happily recognize that all we “own” is his anyway.

(2) Small wonder, then, that the prayer begins with exuberant expressions of praise (1 Chron. 29:10).

(3) David recognizes that all human existence is transient. God himself is to be praised “from everlasting to everlasting” (1 Chron. 29:10), but as for us, “we are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope” (1 Chron. 29:15). This passage is extraordinary. The Israelites are in the Promised Land, at “rest”; yet, as in Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3:6–4:11; 11:13, this cannot be the ultimate rest, for they are still “aliens and strangers.” David is king, the head of a powerful and enduring dynasty. Individually, however, monarch and peasant alike must confess that their “days on earth are like a shadow” (1 Chron. 29:15). Here is a man of faith who knows he must be grounded in the One who inhabits eternity, or else he amounts to nothing.

(4) David lays formidable stress on integrity: “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.… And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you” (1 Chron. 29:17). The success of this fundraising is not measured in monetary value, but in the integrity with which the wealth was given.

(5) In the final analysis, David frankly recognizes that continued devotion and integrity of life are impossible apart from the intervening grace of God (1 Chron. 29:18). Thus any possibility of personal hubris based on the amount of money donated is dissolved in grateful recognition of God’s gracious sovereignty.

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1 Chronicles 28; 2 Peter 2; Micah 5; Luke 14

Nov 30, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 28; 2 Peter 2; Micah 5; Luke 14

WE HAVE ALREADY OBSERVED that 1 and 2 Chronicles differ from the books of Samuel and Kings (though the Chronicles cover roughly the same period of history as Samuel and Kings) in placing much more emphasis on the southern kingdom of Judah, after the monarchy divides. Even at this juncture, however, during the period of the united monarchy, 1 and 2 Chronicles greatly expand on anything to do with the temple.

In this framework, 1 Chronicles 28 discloses a little more detail not only of the transfer of power from David to Solomon, but of the origin of the temple’s plans. On the former point, David charges the people with serving Solomon well; he charges Solomon with serving the Lord God with his whole heart: “For the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chron. 28:9). In particular, David charges Solomon with the building of the temple for which he, David, has made such large provision (1 Chron. 29:10, 20–21). Nothing is reported of the attempt by David’s son Adonijah to usurp the throne before Solomon could be crowned, or of Bathsheba’s strategic protection of her son Solomon (1 Kings 1); nothing is mentioned of the substantial array of other charges David gave to Solomon (1 Kings 2). All the focus here is on the transfer of power as it affects the construction of the temple.

There is a new element of stellar importance. We are told that David gave Solomon “the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the LORD and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things” (1 Chron. 28:12)—as well as for the divisions of the priests and Levites, the amount of gold or silver to be used in the various instruments, and so forth (1 Chron. 28:13–17). Above all, “he also gave him the plan for the chariot, that is, the cherubim of gold that spread their wings and shelter the ark of the covenant of the LORD” (1 Chron. 28:18) in the Most Holy Place. “‘All this,’ David said, ‘I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan’” (1 Chron. 28:19).

Here is the counterpart to the constant emphasis in Exodus on the fact that Moses and his peers built the tabernacle in exact accordance with the plan shown Moses on the mountain. That is then picked up in Hebrews 8:5: this proved the tabernacle was only a copy of a greater original (see the meditation for March 14). Implicitly, the same care is taken with the construction of the temple, with David, not Moses, now serving as the mediator.

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1 Chronicles 26–27; 2 Peter 1; Micah 4; Luke 13

Nov 29, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 26–27; 2 Peter 1; Micah 4; Luke 13

SECOND PETER 1:5–9 PROVIDES us with a remarkable sequence of steps. Peter knows his readers are believers. Now he exhorts them to add some things to their faith.

(1) Add goodness to faith (2 Pet. 1:5): Probably the kind of faith Peter does not want to see is the kind of faith that James 2 dismisses: faith that is merely intellectual, merely affirming, but devoid of transparent trust and ready obedience. Genuine faith issues in obedience—but as usual, believers are responsible to go down that track and are discouraged from mere passivity. So add goodness to faith.

(2) Add knowledge to goodness (2 Pet. 1:5): Some knowledge is necessary for faith, but Peter has moved beyond that point. Elsewhere Timothy is encouraged to persevere in his “doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:16); here Christians are similarly exhorted to add knowledge to goodness. Nothing is as stabilizing and as motivating as a growing grasp of the mind of God.

(3) Add self-control to knowledge (2 Pet. 1:6): Mere knowledge may simply puff one up (1 Cor. 8:1–3) and fail to transform anyone. But if self-control, that blessed element in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), is present in abundance, the potential for good is incalculable.

(4) Add perseverance to self-control (2 Pet. 1:6): It is one thing to be self-controlled in a crisis, or for a short period of time, or when things are going well. It takes long-term perseverance to bring self-control to a shining polish.

(5) Add godliness to perseverance (2 Pet. 1:6): Otherwise, perseverance may turn out to be little more than a supreme effort of merely human will. God-centeredness, a genuine religious element in every virtue, transforms mere stoic resolve into transparent godliness.

(6) Add brotherly kindness to godliness (2 Pet. 1:7): Everyone hates the self-righteous. Self-control and perseverance, even godliness, have been known to generate rigid and unforgiving Pharisees. Add brotherly kindness.

(7) Add love to brotherly kindness (2 Pet. 1:7): That is better yet. For then we are mirroring, however falteringly or poorly, the character of the Master himself.

Note carefully what brackets these seven steps. First, at the front end, Peter tells us we are to “make every effort” to pursue this list, “for this very reason” (2 Pet. 1:5). “This very reason” is spelled out in the previous verses (2 Pet. 1:3–4). God’s glory and goodness have provided great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world. For this reason we are to make every effort to pursue these seven steps. Second, at the back end Peter assures us that these qualities will prevent us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:8–9).

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1 Chronicles 24–25; 1 Peter 5; Micah 3; Luke 12

Nov 28, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 24–25; 1 Peter 5; Micah 3; Luke 12

FIRST PETER 5:1–4 PROVIDES as compelling a glimpse of Christian ministry as any passage in the New Testament.

The apostle Peter addresses elders, whom he also calls “overseers” and “shepherds,” i.e., pastors (see meditation for November 2). Indeed, he addresses them as fellow elders, rather than speaking to them as an apostle to elders. This does not prevent him from alluding to one of the factors that separates him from most other elders: unlike them, he was “a witness of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:1). But even here where he distinguishes his own experience from theirs, he does so in a way that points not to himself but to Christ and his sufferings.

These elders are exhorted to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under [their] care” (1 Pet. 5:2). Shepherds lead, nurture, heal, protect, discipline, feed, and care for their flocks. The task involves oversight: “serving as overseers,” Peter adds. Then Peter adds three clauses with the form “not this … but that,” all of which sum up Christian ministry in telling ways:

(1) “Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Pet. 5:2): Mere duty will never suffice. Sad to say, ministers of the Gospel can feel trapped, “serving” simply because they feel they must, for they cannot let the side down, nor are they trained for anything else. At that point it is time either to change your heart, or get out of the ministry. There must be a heart willingness to serve this way, even in the midst of disappointment and suffering—even as our Master made his Father’s will his own.

(2) “Not greedy for money, but eager to serve” (1 Pet. 5:2): This is not a job that earns money by the hour or by the piece; nor is it a profession associated with a high tax bracket. Unfortunately, TV evangelists and some others have distorted the image. While churches sometimes treat their ministers with surly miserliness (“Lord, you keep them humble and we’ll keep them poor”), ministers can respond with a crass materialism that is no less unbecoming. In the best cases, the church is constantly generous, and the ministers care little for material possessions. Pastors ought to be motivated primarily by a desire to serve.

(3) “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3): Here there is a style of leadership that should eliminate the power hungry from the ministry (though, sadly, some such people do slip into positions from which they should be excluded). Pastors should be more concerned about being examples than about standing on their authority.

No minister is more than an under-shepherd. All must give an account to “the Chief Shepherd”—and he alone rewards his staff (1 Pet. 5:4).

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1 Chronicles 23; 1 Peter 4; Micah 2; Luke 11

Nov 27, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 23; 1 Peter 4; Micah 2; Luke 11

IN CERTAIN RESPECTS THE structure of Israelite life, including some facets of its religious life, changed when the people entered the Promised Land and were no longer nomadic. The first changes were obvious. The Lord stopped the daily supply of manna: the people had to gather food for themselves and grow things. Urbanization began. The Sabbath laws were increasingly applied to trade and commerce as well as to agrarian life.

Now with the establishment of the monarchy and the impending construction of the temple, much more organization and centralization must take place. In particular, David concerns himself not only with providing Solomon with the wherewithal to construct the temple, but with laying the foundations for the new organizational structures that would be necessary to keep it operating. Such matters are of central interest in 1 Chronicles 23–26.

Already in 1 Chronicles 23 David himself reflects on the changes that are coming. One of the duties of the Levites in the past, begun during the wilderness years, was to pack up and transport the tabernacle in the prescribed way, whenever the Lord indicated it was time to move. David reflects on the fact the Lord has now granted his people “rest”: they are in the Promised Land. Moreover, he has chosen “to dwell in Jerusalem forever” (1 Chron. 23:25), so some of the duties of the Levites must change: “the Levites no longer need to carry the tabernacle or any of the articles used in its service” (1 Chron. 23:26). Meanwhile, new functions are introduced: more thought is given to temple choirs, and thus to schools of music and training.

So the Levites are reorganized. They are divided into major families, minor clans, and so forth. Moreover, the temple and its needs will not be allowed to take over. True, the following chapters focus on the kinds of tasks that those who serve the temple will have to discharge—not only the immediately priestly duties and the obviously menial tasks surrounding the temple, but the major responsibilities of upkeep, maintenance, finance, and administration. But from the beginning the priests were also to teach the people the law, and serve as “officials and judges.” David allots six thousand Levites for the latter tasks (1 Chron. 23:4).

From all of this we derive significant lessons. Most importantly, this is a lesson in contextualization within the canon—that is, how to take the old “givens” of revelation and adapt them to a new context without sacrificing the givens. As the church has expanded outward into new cultural contexts, those sorts of questions have had to be addressed again and again. One party will latch onto mere traditionalism from another culture; another party will start to abandon what Scripture actually says. What we really need is faithfulness and flexibility.

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1 Chronicles 22; 1 Peter 3; Micah 1; Luke 10

Nov 26, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 22; 1 Peter 3; Micah 1; Luke 10

THE TRANSITION BETWEEN THE account of David’s numbering of the people (1 Chron. 21) and the account of David’s formidable preparations for the construction of the temple that his son Solomon would build (1 Chron. 22) is one verse, the first verse of chapter 22, with no parallel in 2 Samuel: “Then David said, ‘The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel’” (1 Chron. 22:1).

So the place where the temple was built is the place where David built an altar to the Lord, calling on him with sacrificial offerings (1 Chron. 21:25–27), and where the angel of death sheathed his sword.

So David laid in formidable supplies of building materials and prepared the people to help his son Solomon build the promised temple. “Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD” (1 Chron. 22:19).

There are some lessons to be learned from this siting of the temple.

(1) The place chosen for the temple is the place where a sacrifice was offered and the wrath of God against sin was averted. Of course, the very design of tabernacle and temple was meant to remind people that sin had to be atoned for, that one could not simply saunter into the presence of the holy God, that the sacrifices God himself had prescribed had to be offered by the designated high priest once a year, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But the siting of the temple on this location reinforces the point. Worship and religion are not primarily about offering to God something called praise, something God prefers not to be without. Worship and religion are first of all about God-centeredness—and because we are rebels, that means that worship and religion are in the first instance about being reconciled to this God, our Creator and Redeemer, from whom we have willfully become alienated. The heart of the temple is not its choirs, its incense, its ceremonies. The heart of the temple is about averting the wrath of God, by the means he himself has provided.

(2) The siting of the temple is also a mingling of priestly and kingly lines of authority. Originally, the priests and Levites alone were responsible for the tabernacle; the pillar of cloud determined when it would move. But here the king establishes the site—anticipating the offices of king and priest in one man: Jesus Christ.

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1 Chronicles 21; 1 Peter 2; Jonah 4; Luke 9

Nov 25, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 21; 1 Peter 2; Jonah 4; Luke 9

SECOND SAMUEL 24, which roughly parallels 1 Chronicles 21, says that the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, so he incited David to number the people, which act was strictly forbidden—and then that act brought down the wrath of God on the nation (1 Chron. 24:1). The passage before us says that “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (1 Chron. 21:1).

The two stances are not mutually exclusive, of course, nor even particularly antithetical. In God’s universe, it is impossible to escape the outermost bounds of God’s sovereignty. Whether his providential will over the Devil is portrayed as permissive (as in the case of Job), or something more directive, God is in charge. As for the moral dimensions of the matter, it is important to recall that even within the framework of 2 Samuel 24, God is not arbitrarily and whimsically tempting David to do evil, and then rather viciously clobbering him for it. Whatever God sanctions is portrayed as God’s response to antecedent sin: God’s anger burned against Israel, we are told, so that certain things took place. In the same way, the mark of God’s anger on the nation of Israel during the waning years of the reign of the Davidic dynasty was more and more callous corruption on the throne and among the ruling elite, with the result, of course, that there was more sin in the nation, and more immediacy to God’s threats of judgment.

Nevertheless, having said this, the feel of these two chapters, 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, is quite different. In both cases David is held responsible to follow the Scriptures of the covenant, regardless of the temptation or the complexities of its provenance. But the explicit mention of Satan in 1 Chronicles 21 underlines the dimension of the cosmic fight between good and evil. Three other perspectives are also highlighted:

(1) Joab is always portrayed as a considerable military leader, but not as a particularly spiritual or even moral man. Here he stands up to the king with godly advice, and he is not listened to (1 Chron. 21:3–4). Godly counsel may come from a variety of sources. Doubtless one must listen to all of them—but at the end of the day all counsel must be tested by the Word of God.

(2) Some actions have immense repercussions on others. This was especially true under the old covenant, where kings, prophets, and priests stood in a representative relationship with the people. Though the new covenant is configured differently, it is still true, for instance, that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children for three and four generations.

(3) God is more merciful than people. It is better to fall into his hand, unmediated by human agents, than into any other hand.

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1 Chronicles 19–20; 1 Peter 1; Jonah 3; Luke 8

Nov 24, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 19–20; 1 Peter 1; Jonah 3; Luke 8

ONE OF THE GREAT PRETENSIONS OF human existence is that this mortal life lasts forever. Though young people theoretically know there is an end to each human life, they act as if death will never catch them. Decades later, they know better, but even then most act as if their families will inevitably continue, or at least their culture or their nation will survive.

The most farsighted know it is not so. Individuals die; so do family connections. For all but those most committed to genealogical archaeology, we do not know much about our past families beyond three or four generations back—and we ourselves will not be remembered a few generations hence. Mighty empires fall. They are partitioned, sink into vassal status as third-rate or fourth-rate powers, or dissolve into oblivion. We may have an immortal destiny, but nothing restrictively bound up with this life is secure, nothing is changeless, nothing endures. “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall” (1 Peter 1:24).

Yet there is one more line in this quotation from Isaiah 40:6–8: “but the word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25). It follows, then, that human beings who hunger for the transcendent cannot do better than align themselves with God’s unchanging and enduring word. And there are several hints in this chapter as to what that means in practical terms.

(1) “And this is the word that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:25): the very Gospel that was declared to Peter’s readers is the word of the Lord that stands forever. Adherence to the Gospel is adherence to that which endures forever. The same cannot be said of adherence to a political system or an economic theory or professional advancement.

(2) More precisely, Christians have been “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). That which has transformed us and granted us new life from God himself has not been physical impregnation, but spiritual new birth, brought about by the enduring word of God.

(3) The word mediated through prophets before Jesus looked forward to the revelation that came exclusively with him (1 Pet. 1:10–12). That means it was all one: this was always the plan, however much those Old Testament prophets had or had not grasped of it.

(4) The “new birth” (1 Pet. 1:3) that we have experienced by the action of the enduring word of God introduces us to “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power” (1 Pet. 1:4–5).

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1 Chronicles 18; James 5; Jonah 2; Luke 7

Nov 23, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 18; James 5; Jonah 2; Luke 7

IT IS ONE THING TO WAIT for the Lord’s coming; it is another to wait well.

One may honestly and self-consciously wait for the Lord’s coming, not only acknowledging that the Second Advent is a necessary part of our creed but even after a fashion looking forward to the Parousia, and hoping it will occur in our lifetime—only to find, on reflection, that the way we live has been affected very little by this perspective. In fact, this waiting for the return of the Lord may be nothing more than a hobbyhorse in our reading or teaching, a well-handled map of the future that divides us from other believers, rather than a fixed point in our worldview that decisively shapes how we conduct ourselves.

Of course, there is an element in waiting for the Lord’s return that is just that—waiting. Just as “the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop” (James 5:7), so we too must “be patient and stand firm” (James 5:8).

But like all analogies, this one isn’t perfect (it isn’t meant to be), and James himself quickly leaves it behind. After all, the farmer is patient because he knows more or less when the harvest will take place; we do not know when Jesus’ return will take place.

There are other differences. The farmer is waiting for crops; we are waiting for the Judge who “is standing at the door” (James 5:9). That means that what we are waiting for has an immediate bearing on how we live: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged” (James 5:9) by that very Judge himself.

Moreover, although farmers may have to work hard as they wait for the harvest, in the normal course of events their waiting is not characterized by suffering and persecution. Christians waiting for the End encounter both of those things, James insists—and with that in mind, our waiting might more properly be likened to the perseverance of the prophets (James 5:10) than to the placidity of the farmer. They “spoke in the name of the Lord,” and more often than not were reviled for it. That suffering did not tame their faithful proclamation. But we need not restrict the models we look for to the prophets. Consider Job, a righteous man, who faced catastrophic reversals yet nevertheless persevered—and you “have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11). That perspective is important: in the end, not only God’s justice but his compassion and mercy prevail. The focus on Jesus’ return and on the End not only shapes our current living, but will bring with it perfect vindication in the unqualified goodness of the consummation.

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1 Chronicles 17; James 4; Jonah 1; Luke 6

Nov 22, 2015 | Don Carson

1 Chronicles 17; James 4; Jonah 1; Luke 6

FIRST CHRONICLES 17 FAIRLY CLOSELY parallels 2 Samuel 7. In both passages, David expresses his desire to build a “house” for God. The prophet Nathan initially approves the project, and then, after receiving explicit revelation from God, presents David with a very different picture. Far from David building a “house” for God, God will build a “house” for David—that is, a “household” (as the original word is ambiguous, the play on the meaning intentional). The “house” or “household” that God will build for David is nothing other than the Davidic dynasty. David’s line will never suffer the fate of Saul and his line. When David’s line sins, God’s judgments will be temporal (1 Chron. 17:12–14); the line will not be destroyed.

David responds in a moving prayer (1 Chron. 17:16–27) pulsating with gratitude. The prayer is wonderfully God-centered; David is fully aware that if his line is treated so differently from that of Saul, the ultimate difference is grace. So the closing words of the prayer are frankly touching and revealing: “You, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. So your servant has found courage to pray to you. O LORD, you are God! You have promised these good things to your servant. Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O LORD, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever” (1 Chron. 17:26–27).

One must not forget, however, that these words must be read as part of a two-volume work—1 and 2 Chronicles—whose storyline ends in unmitigated disaster for the Davidic line—apart from the last two verses of 2 Chronicles, which offers a sliver of hope. Today we automatically place them within the larger framework of the Bible’s storyline, and see where they fit into the pattern that brings forth Jesus, the ultimate Davidic king. But the first readers did not enjoy our perspective; the unknown compiler who put together the court records and other sources, covering about five hundred years of history, into the form of our “1 and 2 Chronicles,” did not enjoy our perspective.

Mere cynicism, or the brutality of their experience under the Exile, might have led them to downplay the words we find here in 1 Chronicles 17:27: “Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O LORD, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever.” Instead, the words function for them as a stabilizing promise when all of their recent experience seemed to controvert them. In short, they show us what it means to walk by faith in the promises of God, and not by sight.

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