37 episodes

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).

Read The Bible The Gospel Coalition

    • Religion & Spirituality
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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).

    Numbers 34; Psalm 78:40-72; Isaiah 26; 1 John 4

    Numbers 34; Psalm 78:40-72; Isaiah 26; 1 John 4

    “How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:40-41). Thus Asaph pauses in the course of his recital to summarize one of his main points in this psalm. In fact, one could outline some of the dramatic points Asaph makes as follows:

    (1) The repeated rebellion of the people of God is presented not merely as disobedience, but as putting God to the test. That is one of the elements in rebellion that is so gross, so odious. A heavy dose of “in your face” marks this rebellion, an ugly pattern of unbelief that implicitly charges God with powerlessness, with cruelty, with selfishness, with thoughtlessness, with foolishness. Chronic and repeated unbelief “with attitude” always has this element of putting God to the test. What will God do about it? Small wonder that the apostle Paul identifies the same pattern in the conduct of the people during the wilderness years and warns Christians in his day, “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. 10:9-11).

    (2) Although the first part of the chapter notes God’s wrath replying to the pattern of the people’s rebellion, it also insists that time after time God “restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath”(78:38). But the pattern now becomes grimmer. Eventually the idolatry was so gross that God “was very angry; he rejected Israel completely” (78:59). The context shows that what Asaph had in mind is the judgment of God on the people when he permitted the ark of the Lord to be captured by the Philistines: “He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy” (78:61; cf. 1 Sam. 4:5-11), with the entailment that the people faced terrible destruction at the hand of their enemies.

    (3) The closing verses (78:65-72) focus on the gracious choice of Judah and of David as God’s answer to the wretched years of the wilderness, of the judges, of the reign of Saul. “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (78:72). Living this side of the Incarnation, Christians are especially grateful for David’s line.

    (4) Christians know how the storyline of Psalm 78 develops. David’s dynasty descends into corruption; God’s wrath is greater yet, and the Exile ensues. But worse wrath, and more glorious love, were yet to be displayed in the cross.

    Numbers 33; Psalm 78:1-39; Isaiah 25; 1 John 3

    Numbers 33; Psalm 78:1-39; Isaiah 25; 1 John 3

    The opening verses of Psalm 78 initially elicit a little puzzlement. Asaph invites his readers (and if this is sung, his hearers) to hear his teaching, to listen to the words of his mouth (78:1). Then he announces, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old” (78:2). Anticipation builds; it sounds as if we shall hear brand-new things that have been hidden before Asaph came on the scene. Then he further describes these “hidden things, things from of oldî: they are “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us” (78:3). So, is he embarking on some new revelation, previously hidden, or is he simply reviewing the common heritage of the Israelites? And why add this point that at least part of his purpose is to disclose these things to the new generation that is coming along (78:4)?

    Three observations:

    First, the word rendered “parables” has a wide range of meaning. It can refer to narrative parables, wisdom sayings, aphorisms, and several other forms. Here, Asaph seems to mean no more than that he will say what he has to say in the poetic structures and wise comparisons that characterize this psalm.

    Second, the content of this psalm is both old — “what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us”– and new, “hidden things.” This psalm is one of a group of “historical psalms,” that is, psalms that review some of the experiences of the people of God with their God. For most of its length its chief focus is the Exodus and the events that surrounded it, including the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and so forth. The psalm brings us down to the reign of David (which, incidentally, shows that Asaph himself lived in David’s day or later). Yet this psalm is not a mere review of the bare facts of that history. The recital is designed to draw certain lessons from that history, lessons that might be missed if attention were not drawn to them. These lessons include the sorry patterns of rebellion, God’s self-restraint in his rising anger, his graciousness in saving them again and again, and more. These lessons are “hidden” in the bare text, but they are there, and Asaph brings them out.

    Third, Asaph understands (1) that deep knowledge of Scripture and of the ways of God means more than knowing facts, but also grasping the unfolding patterns to see what God is doing; (2) that at any time the covenant people of God are never more than one generation from extinction, so it is utterly vital to pass on this accumulating insight to the next generation.

    Numbers 32; Psalm 77; Isaiah 24; 1 John 2

    Numbers 32; Psalm 77; Isaiah 24; 1 John 2

    Asaph must have given a lot of thought to the question of what believers should remember. Psalm 75, we saw yesterday, commends the power of godly “recital” — a retelling of what God has done so as to bring near God’s name.” The importance of remembering and retelling is at the heart of Psalm 78. And here in Psalm 77, Asaph highlights yet another element in this theme.

    Asaph finds himself in great distress (77:1). Its causes we do not know, but most of us have passed through “dark nights of the soul” when it seems that either God is dead or he does not care. Asaph was so despondent he could not sleep; indeed, he charges God with keeping him from sleep (77:4). Memories of other times when circumstances were so bright that he sang with joy in the night hours (77:6) serve only to depress him further. Bitterness tinges his list of rhetorical questions: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (77:7-9 ).

    What Asaph resolves to focus on is all the ways God has disclosed himself in power in the past. He writes: “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High” (77:10) — in other words, he appeals to all the displays of strength, of the deeds of God’s “right hand,” across the years. “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (77:11-12). So in the rest of the psalm, Asaph switches to the second person, addressing God directly, remembering some of the countless deeds of grace and power that have characterized God’s dealings with the covenant people of God. He remembers the plagues, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, the way God led his people “by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (77:13-20).

    Christians have all the more to remember. As Asaph “remembered” the Exodus by reading Scripture, so we have even more Scripture. We remember not only all that Asaph remembered, but things he did not know: the Exile, the return from exile, the long years of waiting for the coming of the Messiah. We remember the Incarnation, the years of Jesus’ life and ministry, his words and mighty deeds. Above all, we remember his death and resurrection, and the powerful work of the Spirit at Pentacost and beyond.

    And as we remember, our faith is strengthened, our vision of God is renewed, and the despair lifts.

    Numbers 31; Psalms 75-76; Isaiah 23; 1 John 1

    Numbers 31; Psalms 75-76; Isaiah 23; 1 John 1

    One of the important functions of corporate worship is recital, that is, a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done. Hence Psalm 78:2-4: “I will utter hidden things, things from of old — what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” Similarly, if more briefly, Psalm 75:1: “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.” In fact, the New English Bible is a little closer to the Hebrew: “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds.” God’s “name” is part of his gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who he is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “name” then, is brought very near us in the story of his wonderful deeds: that is, who God is disclosed in the accounts of what he has done.

    Thus the recital of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to his people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.

    The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer, the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly” (75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than “the appointed time.” Yet mere control without justice would be fatalism. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2). Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. Elsewhere David ponders, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm” (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned: “Boast no more”(75:4). To the wicked, God says, “Do not lift your horns against heaven [like a ram tossing its head about in bold confidence]; do not speak with outstretched neck” (75:5).

    Retell God’s wonderful deeds and bring near his name.

    Numbers 30; Psalm 74; Isaiah 22; 2 Peter 3

    Numbers 30; Psalm 74; Isaiah 22; 2 Peter 3

    A few years ago I spent some time in a certain so-called “third world” country, well known for its abject poverty. What struck me most forcibly about the culture of that country, however, was not its poverty, nor the gap between the very wealthy and the very poor — I had read up enough on these points that I was not surprised, and I had witnessed similar tragedies elsewhere — but its ubiquitous, endemic corruption.

    Here in the West, we are not well placed to wag a finger. Doubtless we have less overt bribery; doubtless we have published prices for many government services that make bribes and kickbacks a little more difficult to institutionalize; doubtless there is still enough Christian heritage that at least on paper we avow that honesty is a good thing, that a man or woman’s word should be his or her bond, that greed is evil — though very often such values are nowadays honored rather more in the breach than in reality. Even so , we are by far the most litigious nation in the world. We produce far more lawyers than engineers (the reverse of Japan). The simplest agreement nowadays must be surrounded by mounds of legalese protecting the participants. A fair bit of this stems from the fact that many individuals and companies will not keep their word, will not try to do the right thing, and will try to rip off the other party if they can get away with it. A lie is embarrassing only if you are caught. Promises and pledges become devices to get what you want, rather than commitments to truth. Solemn marriage vows are discarded on a whim, or dissolved in the heat of lust. And of course, if we easily abandon marriage covenants, business covenants, and personal covenants, it is equally easy to abandon the covenant with God.

    Telling the truth and keeping one’s promises in one domain of life spill over into other domains; conversely, infidelity in one arena commonly spills over into other arenas. So, nestled within the Mosaic covenant are these words: “This is what the LORD commands: When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Num. 30:1-2). The rest of the chapter recognizes that such oaths by individuals may not be merely individual matters; there may be spousal or family entailments. So for the right ordering of the culture, God himself sets forth who, under this covenant, is permitted to ratify or set aside a pledge; that pattern says something about headship and responsibility in the family. But the fundamental issue is one of truth-telling and fidelity.

    Numbers 29; Psalm 73; Isaiah 21; 2 Peter 2

    Numbers 29; Psalm 73; Isaiah 21; 2 Peter 2

    Few psalms have provided greater succor to the people who are troubled by the frequent, transparent prosperity of the wicked than Psalm 73.

    Asaph begins with a provocative pair of lines: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Does the parallelism hint that the people of Israel are the pure in heart? Scarcely; that accords neither with history nor with this psalm. The second line, then, must be a restriction on the first. Should those who are not pure in heart be equated with the wicked so richly described in this psalm? Well, perhaps, but what is striking is that the next lines depict not the evil of the wicked but the sin of Asaph’s own heart. His own heart was not pure as he contemplated “the prosperity of the wicked” (73:3). He envied them. Apparently this envy ate at him until he was in danger of losing his entire moral and religious balance: his “feet had almost slipped” (73:2).

    What attracted Asaph to the wicked was the way so many of them seem to be the very picture of serenity, good health, and happiness (73:4-12). Even their arrogance has its attractions: it seems to place them above others. Their wealth and power make them popular. At their worst, they ignore God with apparent total immunity from fear. They seem “always carefree, they increase in wealth” (73:12).

    So perhaps righteousness doesn’t pay: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (73:13). Asaph could not quite bring himself to this step: he recognized that it would have meant a terrible betrayal of “your children” (73:15) — apparently the people of God to whom Asaph felt loyalty and for whom, as a leader, he sensed a burden of responsibility. But all his reflections were “oppressive” to him (73:16), until three profound realizations dawned on him.

    First, on the long haul the wicked will be swept away. As Asaph entered the sanctuary, he reflected on the “final destiny” (73:17-19, 27) of those he had begun to envy, and he envied them no more.

    Second, Asaph himself, in concert with all who truly know God and walk in submission to him, possesses so much more than the wicked — both in this life and in the life to come. “I am always with you,” Asaph exults; “you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (73:23-24).

    Third, Asaph now sees his bitterness for the ugly sin it is (73:21-22), and resolves instead to draw near to God and to make known all God’s deeds (73:28).

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
121 Ratings

121 Ratings

BrycimusMaximus ,

Superb

I’ve been the book format for a few years... What a blessing to have it available on audio! The narration is excellent. I will be using this every day!

KGB-Smeagol ,

Good devotional guide!

I’ve used this devotional in years past, but it’s a blessing to have it in audio form now delivered daily as a podcast.

Llamacop ,

Please release a little earlier

This is a great idea. But I agree with a previous comment. I am listening from Kenya in the morning, and so an earlier release would be nice.

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