Read the Bible features devotional commentaries from D.A. Carson’s book For the Love of God (vol. 1) that follow the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. This podcast is designed to be used alongside TGC's Read The Bible initiative (TGC.org/readthebible).
2 Chronicles 8; 3 John; Habakkuk 3; Luke 22
Habakkuk’s final prayer (Hab. 3) is in large measure a response to the Lord’s perspective in chapter 2. It is a wonderful model of how to respond to God’s revelation when it says things we may not like. Dominant themes include the following:
(1) Habakkuk continues to pray for revival. Who knows whether or not this is one of the instances when God will respond to fervent intercession? In the preceding chapter God does not absolutely rule out the possibility of such a visitation. So Habakkuk prays: “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
(2) In highly poetic language, Habakkuk then recalls a number of instances in the past when God did in fact save his covenant people by thrashing their opponents. “In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations,” Habakkuk recalls (Hab. 3:12), clearly intimating, “So why not do it again?” After all, he adds, on those occasions, “You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one” (Hab. 3:13—note how “anointed one” here apparently refers to the entire people of God, not just the Davidic king).
(3) Yet Habakkuk has heard what God has said on this occasion. As much as it makes his heart pound and his legs shake (Hab. 3:16), he resolves to pursue the only wise course: “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us” (Hab. 3:16). In other words, he will wait for what God has promised—the righteous judgment of God upon the oppressors, even if the people of God have to suffer judgment first.
(4) Yet the loveliest and most insightful part of Habakkuk’s prayer is reserved for the end. His ultimate confidence does not rest on the prospect of judgment on Babylon. At one level his ultimate confidence is utterly detached from political circumstances and from the material well-being of his own people. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,” he writes, “though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Hab. 3:17–18).
That kind of faith can live without knowing; it can triumph when there is no revival; it can rejoice in God even when the culture is in decline. “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Hab. 3:19).
2 Chronicles 7; 2 John; Habakkuk 2; Luke 21
God’s response (Hab. 2) to Habakkuk’s second complaint (see yesterday’s meditation) answers it in part and evades it in part. More precisely, it implicitly dismisses one part of Habakkuk’s question by putting all the weight on another part. Clearly God judges his answer to be so important that he wants it circulated (Hab. 2:2), so what starts off as private communication takes the first step toward becoming incorporated into the canon.
God describes the “typical” Babylonian (Hab. 2:4–5): puffed up, with corrupt desires, often intoxicated, arrogant, restless, greedy, violent, and oppressive. He is precisely the opposite of what God wants a human being, a divine image-bearer, to be: “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). There is a long-running dispute over whether the word for “faith” should properly be rendered “faithfulness,” not least because this line is quoted in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:37–38). Although there are strong voices on both sides, a good case can be made for preserving the ambiguity. Over against the person whose wretched conduct God lists in the surrounding lines, God certainly wants people to be “faithful.” On the other hand, the preceding two lines depict the wicked as “puffed up” and with desires “not upright”—just the opposite of a person with genuine “faith,” which in the Bible depends on God and therefore cannot be either puffed up (which presupposes independence from God) or corrupt.
Whatever the responsible way to take that line, the Babylonians themselves are so wicked, God says, that all of their erstwhile victims will one day rise up and taunt the oppressors with a long list of “woes” (Hab. 2:6, 9, 12, 15, 19)—dramatic curses pronounced on them because of their grievous sins. These woes should be pondered by any nation that hungers to act justly. The last one is bound up with idolatry: “Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” By contrast: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab. 2:19–20). It is as if the wickedness of the Babylonians is traced back to their idolatry. The words are a powerful reminder that God reigns over all the nations, and he abhors the idolatry that drives people to pant after created things rather than the Creator who made them and to whom they owe everything (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.).
So God has not explained how he can use a more wicked nation to chasten a less wicked one. Rather, he has said that he knows more about Babylonian wickedness than Habakkuk does, that he keeps accounts, that justice will one day be meted out.
2 Chronicles 6:12–42; 1 John 5; Habakkuk 1; Luke 20
The prophecy of Habakkuk—or, more precisely, the “oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received”—is cast not as something he is to deliver to others, but as a response to his own complaint before the Lord. The fact that it was written down and preserved in the canon means that in God’s providence either Habakkuk or someone else thought it was so important others should read it. It should not remain a private communication (like the private revelations that Paul sometimes received, 2 Cor. 12:1–10).
The nature of Habakkuk’s protest is set out in Habakkuk 1. The setting is apparently about the time of the final Babylonian assault (Hab. 1:6). Initially Habakkuk’s complaint concerns the decline of his own people and culture (Hab. 1:2–5). He has cried to the Lord for help, and expects heaven-sent revival. “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Hab. 1:2). The rest of his complaint lists the symptoms of a culture in disintegration: violence, injustice, wrong, strife, conflict, and the Law of God paralyzed.
But God answers with words Habakkuk does not want to hear. Habakkuk wants revival; God promises judgment (Hab. 1:6–11). If Habakkuk is so concerned about the injustice, he should know that God is going to do something about it: he is going to punish it. God will do something astonishing: he will raise up the Babylonians, “that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own” (Hab. 1:6). They will come “bent on violence” and “gather prisoners like sand” (Hab. 1:9). God does not pretend that the Babylonians are fine folk. After describing the massive strength of their armed forces, he scathingly calls them “guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (Hab. 1:11). These guilty men, intoxicated by the ferocity of their own violence, are the people God is going to deploy to chasten his own covenant people—in response to Habakkuk’s prayer that God would do something about the injustice in the land.
God’s response does not satisfy Habakkuk. The second complaint (Hab. 1:12–2:1) goes to the heart of the issue. Granted that God is eternal and faithful to his covenant people; granted too that he is “too pure to look on evil” (Hab. 1:13) and therefore must punish his own covenant community, the burning question remains: “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab. 1:13, italics added). For however wicked the Judahites are, the Babylonians are worse. How can God use the more wicked to punish the less wicked?
What other examples of this are there in history, sacred and profane?
2 Chronicles 5:1–6:11; 1 John 4; Nahum 3; Luke 19
By itself, the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11–27) is easy enough to understand. What makes it more challenging is the way it is bracketed—that is, how it is introduced and how it ends.
(1) The story itself depicts a nobleman who travels to a distant country to be appointed king. The picture would not be foreign: the Herods on occasion traveled to Rome to obtain or to secure their standing with Caesar. Before leaving, the nobleman entrusts ten minas, a considerable sum of money, to his servants, apparently one mina to each. On his return (and now king), he discovers that his servants have handled his money with various degrees of success. The parable does not recount each servant’s rate of return, but reports representative cases. One has earned ten minas, an increase of 1,000 percent; another, five minas, an increase of 500 percent. Each is rewarded extravagantly, but in proportion to the increase. One servant merely returns to his master the mina he has been given. His excuse is that he is afraid of the master, knowing him to be a hard man. The rest of the story plays out. Probably we contemporary readers need to be reminded that the servants were not employees who could quit if they wanted to or withhold their services under union rules. They were slaves who owed their master their best effort. Hence the punishment for the irresponsible slave.
(2) But the story ends with a lengthy saying: “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:26–27). The last servant has nothing by way of increase; all he “has” is the gift entrusted to him for the benefit of another. The king’s servants are responsible to labor for their master’s profit, and if they do not, they show themselves to be rebellious servants, no true servants at all. They are scarcely better than the enemies who defy the master’s kingship altogether.
(3) All of this must be nestled into the framework of expectation created by the opening verse (Luke 19:11). Jesus tells this parable to respond to those who thought “that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Not so, the parable insists: the master goes away to receive a kingdom; some of the people hate the notion; even his servants vary in their faithfulness and fruitfulness, and some prove to be false servants. Those who are truly devoted slaves of King Jesus will busy themselves trying to improve their Master’s assets, eagerly awaiting his return.
2 Chronicles 3–4; 1 John 3; Nahum 2; Luke 18
Today I shall reflect on Luke 18:31–43. These verses are divided into two sections.
The first section (Luke 18:31–34) constitutes a prediction of Christ’s passion. It reports one of several times when Jesus tried to warn his disciples what would happen when he went up to Jerusalem for the last time. Despite the explicitness of Jesus’ language, the “disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about” (Luke 18:34). From our perspective, this side of the cross, we might wonder how they could be so thick. What they suffered from was a narrow focus of vision equivalent to having blinders on. Their conception of Messiah was that he was triumphant. Certainly Jesus had the power. The kind of person who could heal the sick, raise the dead, still storms, and walk on water could certainly take on a few Roman legions; he could certainly turf out corrupt officials and impose justice on the land. Besides, couldn’t all of Jesus’ expressions be understood in some way other than the way Christians take them today? In the Old Testament (the disciples might have recalled) the title “Son of Man” is only rarely messianic: of whom, then, is Jesus speaking? Perhaps the handing over of this “Son of Man” to Gentiles is a temporary thing prior to his dramatic rescue in the final fight—that is, he will “rise again” (Luke 18:33).
In broader theological terms, the disciples had not come to terms with the fact that the promised king from the line of David would also be the suffering servant. Their expectations were bent; they could see only what they expected to see. On the broadest horizon, that is one of the effects of the corrosive, blinding power of sin: it so dulls our vision and disorients our perspective that it shuts off crucial parts of evidence so we cannot see the truth and the greatness and the glory of God’s revelation.
The second section deals with the healing of the blind man sitting by the side of the Jericho road (Luke 18:35–43). Unlike the disciples in the previous verse, who doubtless thought they understood something of what was said, even though they didn’t, this man knows he is blind. Others try to quiet him; he will not be silent, but calls all the more strenuously: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:39). Jesus heals him; the man sees. And that is always what is needed: for men and women to admit their blindness and cry to him who alone can give sight. Otherwise, no matter how many words are spoken, their meaning will be hidden.
2 Chronicles 2; 1 John 2; Nahum 1; Luke 17
From the two designated passages, I shall reflect on two faces of judgment.
From Nahum 1, we learn that sometimes God’s promise of judgment on the triumphant perpetrators of evil can be an encouragement. That is a summary of the theme of this book. Nahum is called to pronounce judgment on Assyria and its capital Nineveh, but unlike Jonah he is not called to proclaim this message to the Assyrians, but to the covenant people of God. That is seen, for instance, in the way Nahum initially talks about Nineveh in the third person (Nahum 1:8). When Nineveh is directly addressed (e.g., Nahum 1:11), that is merely part of the rhetoric of the oracle.
At a guess, Nahum delivered these words from the Lord sometime after 722 B.C., when Assyria destroyed Samaria, the capital city of Israel, and transported many of its leading citizens. The ten northern tribes effectively ceased to exist as a nation. But the faithful believers among those left behind and among those carried off into exile, not to mention the watching Israelites in the southern kingdom of Judah, needed to know that God does not stop reigning, or holding people to account, just because he uses them to chasten his people (cf. Isa. 10:5ff.). “The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and maintains his wrath against his enemies” (Nahum 1:2). “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into darkness” (Nahum 1:7–8). Many, many times when believers have been crushed under wicked regimes, or when innocent nations have been pulverized by brutal and powerful nations, words like these have sustained the faithful: God is just, and will hold the violent oppressors accountable, regardless of their political stance, religious affiliation, race, economics, or public image.
From Luke 17 comes the memorable line, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32; cf. Gen. 19:26). The picture is of “the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30). Judgment will be so sudden that the person on the rooftop—where people could catch some fresh, cooling breeze in the evening—should not think of going downstairs to take something with them. They should run from rooftop to rooftop and get out before the judgment falls. The imagery, of course, depends on first-century Jerusalem architecture. But the words “Remember Lot’s wife,” and the verse that follows, combine to show that the real issue is hesitation as to where one’s heart belongs. Those who longingly look back to the City of Destruction and try to cling to its toys are destroyed with them. Press on, then; invest in heaven’s stock (Matt. 6:19–21); set your sights on the New Jerusalem.
A Year Later
Thank you Gospel Coalition for continuing this on throughout an odd year and grounding us in the truth. Thank you for constantly pointing us to Christ, our only hope. Grateful to have done this for a year. Praying that this ministry continues to bless others. God bless!
Great way to start the New Year
I’m so thankful that the Gospel Coalition provided this study and am looking forward to digging into God’s Word more this year.