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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
1 Chronicles 16; James 3; Obadiah; Luke 5
Probably James 3 is one of the best-known passages in all of literature dealing with the tongue.
(1) The burden of James 3:3–6 is that although the tongue is a very small organ, in many respects it controls and, in the worst case, inflames the rest of the human being. Each of the analogies James draws casts a fresh hue on the subject. The bit is tiny compared with the rest of the horse, yet it steers the horse. Something similar can be said of the rudder with respect to the ship, only now it is part of the ship rather than separate from it. The spark is tiny compared with the conflagration it causes—but in this case the focus is not only on relative size but on the horrible damage the tongue can achieve.
(2) The next section (James 3:7–8) adapts the last of these three analogies, and purposely distances itself from the first. The notion of a bit in a horse’s mouth might conjure up mental expectations of control and discipline. The reality, James insists, is closer to conflagration. We manage to tame “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea” (James 3:7), but no one can tame the tongue. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
(3) In particular, it is the tongue’s wild inconsistency that is so offensive (James 3:9–12). The analogies James draws suggest that if with the one tongue we praise God and abuse God’s image-bearers, the praise we offer to God cannot possibly be more than religious cant. One stream cannot provide both fresh water and bitter.
(4) All of this is in danger of being misunderstood. The focus on the tongue is rhetorically powerful, of course, but we all know that the tongue is not independent of the person. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why James goes on to contrast two kinds of wisdom (James 3:13–18). At issue is who we are as persons. If our hearts “harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14), that will surface in our speech. We control our own tongues—and what we need is “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17), so graphically described in the last two verses of the chapter.
(5) Similarly, the opening two verses of the chapter cannot be abstracted from what James says about the tongue. These two verses are frightening to any thoughtful teacher of Scripture: “We who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1) That is part of a biblical axiom: responsibility is assessed as a function of knowledge. But teachers know that their performance is tied to what they say (James 3:2). We have returned to the tongue—or, by only the slightest extension, to the printed page and the CD-ROM.