October 31, 2014

843 Acres: Three Practical Suggestions for Bible Reading

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Ho 5-6 (txt | aud, 3:39 min)
Ps 119:145-76 (txt | aud, 2:54 min)
Highlighted: Ps 119

Here are three practical suggestions for consistent success in Bible reading. 

Time: First, find the time. In our culture, the default response to, “How are you?” is usually either, “Busy,” “So busy,” or “Crazy busy” [1]. Yet it only takes about 90 hours to read through the Bible. This means that if we replace our average daily television watching, which Nielsen reports is 4 hours and 39 minutes [2], with Bible reading, we could read the entire Bible in less than 3 weeks.

It helps to set aside the same time every day. In fact, seeking God in the morning may solve our busyness problem. In What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam writes, “The madness of mornings is a key reason most of us believe we have no time” [3]. As the Psalmist sings, “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” [4].

Plan: Second, find a Bible-reading plan. One feature of 843 Acres is that it follows the well-known and well-respected M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, which has been recommended by people like John Stott, Charles Spurgeon, and Ravi Zacharias. Over the course of one year, we read through the entire New Testament, the Psalms, the Proverbs and half of the Old Testament. 

Meditate: Finally, find at least one word, phrase or verse on which to meditate each time you read. In each 843 Acres reflection, we feature a “highlighted” verse and include it in full in italics within the reflection itself. We do this because we know that, even with a good plan, Bible reading can be a chore instead of a discipline of joy. We want our readers to think deeply about at least one thing they have read so that they can meditate on it throughout the day.

Prayer: Lord, We need the instruction, guidance and encouragement of the Word every day because we face problems, temptations, and pressures every day. We need to seek your face, hear your voice, feel your touch, and know your power daily. Therefore, help us to set ourselves in the way of gospel allurement by reading the Bible daily. Amen.

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M’Cheyne Weekend Readings:

Saturday, November 1: Ho 7 (txt | aud, 2:18 min) & Ps 120-122 (txt | aud, 1:57 min)
Sunday, November 2: Ho 8 (txt | aud, 2:04 min) & Ps 123-125 (txt | aud, 1:54 min)

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Footnotes

[1] See Tim Kreider. The “Busy” Trap. The New York Times. Opinion Pages. 30 June 2012.  |  [2] Brian Stelter. “Youths Are Watching, but Less Often on TV.” The New York Times. 8 February 2012.  |  [3] Vanderkam, Laura (2012-06-12). What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings–and Life (Kindle Location 96). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.  |   [4] Psalm 119:147-148 ESV

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October 30, 2014

843 Acres TBT: The Silken Fetter

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Hos 3-4 (txt | aud, 3:41 min)
Ps 119.121-44 (txt | aud, 2:17 min)
Highlighted: Hos 3.5

Charles Spurgeon, The Silken Fetter (1869)

The goodness of God to us should suggest aspiration as well as adoration. If He has treated us so as never any other did. If He has dealt with us in tenderness surpassing thought, then will we serve Him if He will but condescend to accept the sacrifice. There was never such a God as He. Oh, what an honor to be His servants! With tears of joy bedewing our eyes, we ask, “My God, may we be permitted to serve You? Is there anything of service or of suffering which You can condescend to allot to such as we are? Your goodness constrains us with Your fear—we are bound by it to be Yours forever.”

Brethren, the greatness of God’s goodness should suggest to us great service. The continuance of that goodness should move us to persevere in honoring Him. The disinterestedness of the love of God should make us ready for any self-denials. And above all, the singularity and specialty of His goodness towards His elect should determine us to be singular and remarkable in our consecration to His cause. Each Believer is so remarkably a debtor to his Lord that he should not be content to render mere ordinary tribute, but should be panting and sighing that he may attain to eminence in holy labor. He owes more than others—He should render a worthier return.

We should also fear the Lord and His goodness in the sense of affection—an affection combined with the fears peculiar to holy jealousy. Has the Lord done so much for us? Then how we ought to tremble lest we should grieve so kind a God! If you have a master for whom you do not care because he is ungenerous or tyrannical, you will be little careful to please him, except so far as your sense of duty might demand. But when you are serving a kind and generous person who has been your benefactor from your youth up, you would not, for all the world, vex him either by negligence or fault. No father commands the obedience of his children like the parent whose affection to his children has been most manifest and undoubted.

Our gracious God wins the deepest affection of His people and they become jealous lest by anything done or undone they should grieve His Holy Spirit. Oh, that blessed, holy fear, that sacred jealousy of sin! I wish we all had more of it.

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October 29, 2014

843 Acres: Love or Loathe the Bible

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Ho 2 (txt | aud, 3:51 min)
Ps 119:97-120 (txt | aud, 2:11 min)
Highlighted: Ps 119

Authority: “Americans may love the Bible or loathe it,” wrote Ann Monroe in Mother Jones. “But for the most part, they read it the same (when they read it at all): as the manifesto of a God who has a lot of laws and a definite inclination to punish those who don’t follow them” [1]. We may think that an authoritative text precludes intimacy, but a personal relationship requires someone who talks back. A one-sided relationship is exploitive, not personal. How can we pursue a relationship with God in which our will is crossed and our thoughts are contradicted? 

Wisdom: The Psalmist celebrated the Word for its authority and ability to cross and contradict us. For the Lord’s wisdom transcends the wisdom of those from whom we traditionally seek it: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day … I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts” [2].

Discipline: In Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney writes, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God – intimately” [3].

Prayer: Lord, We need more than just words to survive. We need the Word himself. Since the Bible is the essential place to find him, we turn to it and long for a more disciplined intake of it. Make it our meditation all the day. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Ann Monroe. “Does the Bible Tell Me So?” Mother Jones. November/December 1997.  |  [2] Psalm 119:97-100 ESV  |  [3] Donald S. Whitney. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life. Colorado Springs, CO. NavPress. p. 26

 

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October 28, 2014

843 Acres: God Sows

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Hos 1 (txt | aud, 2:06 min)
Ps 119.73-96 (txt | aud, 15:42 min)
Highlighted: Hos 1.4, 11

Jezreel: It can be easy, in the spectacle of Hosea’s call from God to marry a pagan temple prostitute, to overlook the significance of the couple’s children. Yet God used each child’s name to introduce a new message to his people. The firstborn was named Jezreel, after the field which hosted one of Israel’s greatest tragedies — a wicked royal couple murdering a man to take his vineyard for themselves (1 Kings 21.1-16). Their actions reverberated through generations of ancient Israeli royalty, each departing from God and using their power to serve themselves. The very mention of “Jezreel” surfaced the painful emotions associated with the lasting effects of national waywardness.

Chosen: In the midst of this pain God also delivered a message of hope to his people. In Hebrew the name Jezreel means, “God Sows.” An ancient Near Eastern sower would hand-select his seed, sometimes leveraging all he had to purchase precisely what he wanted to cultivate. The sower would then place the seed in hot water, boiling off contaminants which would kill the seed when its shell opened. The seed was then moved to cool water where it would sit while the sower prepared the field. The cool water fortified the outside of the shell as the sower worked to remove thorns and rocks which would stunt growth. Finally, the sower would load the seed in his satchel, walk into the field and place it in the ready soil for the growth process to begin.

Pursued: The message God had for his people was one of redemption — and it is no different for us today. When we come to Christ there is natural pain felt from our waywardness. Yet we are not left alone. God chose us, and sacrificed greatly to purchase us. He refines his children, through sometimes painful experiences, burning off sin that threatens to destroy us. He fortifies through community, building his people up through his Church. Then he roots his children, in prepared places, to bear fruit for the benefit of others.

Prayer: Father, thank you that you are a God who sows. Thank you for giving us the message of Hosea which demonstrates your ceaseless pursuit even in the face of waywardness. Give us hope in your guiding hand, especially when you use difficulty to refine us. Help us to see the ground you’ve prepared for us and give us the privilege of bearing the fruit of your Spirit where we are planted. Amen.

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October 27, 2014

843 Acres: Freedom Is Not a Lack of Restrictions

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Dn 12 (txt | aud, 2:21 min)
Ps 119:49-72 (txt | aud, 2:02 min)
Highlighted: Ps 119

Freedom: When we think about freedom, we almost always think about it in its negative sense—freedom from. In his 1958 lecture, “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Isaiah Berlin distinguished between negative and positive freedom. “Negative freedom, as Berlin defines it, is freedom from—in essence, freedom from interference and constraint. Positive freedom is freedom for—in essence, freedom for excellence according to whatever vision and ideals define that excellence” [1]. What happens when we divorce the two freedoms and only think about freedom in its negative sense?

Essence: True freedom includes both the negative and the positive sense. As Os Guinness writes, “Neither positive nor negative freedom is complete without the other. They each describe complementary sides of the same full freedom, which always rests on two conditions: the complete absence of any abuse of power, which is the essence of negative freedom, and a vision of a positive way of life, which is the essence of positive freedom. In a free society understood in this way, free citizens are neither prevented from doing what they should (the denial of positive freedom) nor forced to do what they shouldn’t (the denial of negative freedom)” [2]. For example, he says, the American Revolution was both freedom from the British and freedom for the American experiment.

Bounds: The Psalmist celebrates full freedom: “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways … I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts” [3]. In other words, he is seeking freedom from the ensnarement of worthless things that demand his worship and freedom for the joy of running in the statutes of God and seeking the Lord with his whole heart. This is true freedom.

Prayer: Lord, We confess that true freedom is not a lack of restrictions; it is finding the right restrictions that fit our being. Like fish that find true freedom within the confines of the fish bowl and die when “liberated” from those constraints, we, too, seek true freedom within the loving confines of your statutes. For that is where we find true freedom—freedom from living as slaves to sin and freedom for living as children of God. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Os Guinness. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. (To see a 45-minute video of Guinness speaking on this book at Socrates in the City in NYC, click here.) | [2] Id. | [3] Psalm 119:37, 45 ESV

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October 24, 2014

843 Acres: Repentance in a New Light

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Dn 9 (txt | aud, 5:36 min)
Ps 117-118 (txt | aud, 3:00 min)
Highlighted: Dan. 9.4-5

Disconnect: When Martin Luther pounded the 95 Theses into the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany he began with the simple but profound statement that, “the entire life of believers [is] to be one of repentance.” Luther’s actions began the Protestant Reformation, abandoning the then-current practice of indulgences for a lifestyle of repentance. Repentance requires a sometimes painful examination of our lives and submission to a standard outside of ourselves. Because of this, just a few hundred years later, and downstream from the movement which Luther’s words and sacrificial actions began, the idea of repentance ranges anywhere from foreign to offensive for many.

Immovable: The prayer that consumes most of Daniel 9 is, “aflame with the purifier of sincere repentance,” says F.M. Wood. Daniel cries out, “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules.” The contrast between a broken people and a God who is immovable in faithfulness could not be stronger. Because God’s faithfulness cannot be shaken or diminished he is able to both establish a standard for life and offer forgiveness without compromise, albeit at great cost to himself.

Repentance: Daniel’s prayer seeks repentance for national abandonment of the Covenant—it cut to the deepest part of the prophetic heart in his day. For modern Christians, our wounds run no less shallow and may feel intensely more personal. In many ways, repentance is the process of revealing our deepest hurts and asking God to restore us where nothing else can. The full process of repentance in Christ is re-humanizing, brimming with grace, and overflowing with love. It leaves us stunned by the grace that renews us. We walk away with a new name – one that speaks not of our pain, but of our journey and interaction with a God who is, as Nehemiah says, “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love – a God who does not forsake us.” [2]

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being slow to anger and abounding in love. Like Adam hiding in the garden we find hurt and shame driving us from the one who can heal us. Restore us, O Lord, let us see the joy of your salvation. Give us life and heal us through the power of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Wood, F. M. (1972). Daniel. In H. F. Paschall & H. H. Hobbs (Eds.), The Teacher’s Bible commentary (p. 532). Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers. | [2] Neh 9.17

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October 23, 2014

843 Acres TBT: The Sympathy of Jesus (Newton)

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Dn 8 (txt | aud, 4:39 min)
Ps 116 (txt | aud, 1:49 min)

Psalm 116:6, 10 

The Lord preserves the simple … I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.”

John Newton, Letters of John Newton (1776) 

To Mrs. Thornton.

My Dear Madam, … Though I feel grief, I trust the Lord has mercifully preserved me from impatience and murmuring, and that in the midst of all the pleadings of flesh and blood, there is a something within me that aims to say without reserve or exception, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

It is a comfortable consideration, that he with whom we have to do, our great High Priest, who once put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, and now forever appears in the presence of God for us, is not only possessed of sovereign authority and infinite power, but wears our very nature, and feels and exercises in the highest degree those tendernesses and commiserations, which I conceive are essential to humanity in its perfect state. The whole history of his wonderful life is full of inimitable instances of this kind. His bowels were moved before his arm was exerted; he condescended to mingle tears with mourners, and wept over distresses which he intended to relieve. He is still the same in his exalted state; compassions dwell within his heart … he still feels for his people …

With the eye, and the ear, and the heart of a friend, he attends to their sorrows. He accounts their sighs, puts their tears in his bottle, and when our spirits our overwhelmed within us, he knows our path, and adjusts the time, the measure of our trials, and every thing that is necessary for our present support and seasonable deliverance … Still more, besides his benevolent, he has an experimental sympathy. He knows our sorrows, not merely as he knows all things, but as one who has been in our situation and who, though without sin himself, endured, when upon earth, inexpressibly more for us than he will ever lay upon us …

What, then, shall we fear, or of what shall we complain? When all our concerns are written upon his heart, and their management, to the very hairs of our head, are under his care and providence; when he pities us more than we can do ourselves, and has engaged his almighty power to sustain and relieve us. However, as he is tender, he is wise also; he loves us, but especially with regard to our best interests.

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October 22, 2014

843 Acres: On Freedom and Dominion

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Dn 7 (txt | aud, 5:10 min)
Ps 114-115 (txt | aud, 2:17 min)
Highlighted: Dan 7.14

Freedom: “Throughout history, through all ages, all human beings have always sought two kinds of freedom, but today we’re after a third kind as well,” observes Tom Wolfe. The two foundational freedoms are those from tyranny (freedom of expression, religion, and political determination) and want (freedom of economic opportunity, class mobility, etc). “Today we are seeking, and even expecting, a third kind of freedom that is unprecedented… freedom from religion.” Wolfe says it’s no longer freedom of religion, but from it, adding, “That has never, ever been sought before. It’s the final freedom.”[1]

Enslavement: Where does freedom from all commitments and obligations lead? Over 150 years ago Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers recorded the natural enslavement of the human heart: “It is thus, that the boy ceases, at length, to be a slave of his appetite, but it is usually because the more mature taste has brought it into subordination. For example, the youth may cease to idolize sensual pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has gotten the ascendancy but even the love of money may cease to have mastery over the heart because it’s drawn into the world of ideology and politics and he is now lorded over by a love of power or moral superiority in his new politics.”[2] The pathway far too many people perceive as that of freedom is really one of submission to shifting affections.

Dominion: It isn’t the vivid imagery of Daniel’s visions that are most offensive to many today, but the threat that, “[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.” It is anathema, in a culture which perceives freedom as limitless self-determination, to think of God as the final authority to whom we have obligation. Yet it is only in God we have the opportunity for true freedom. The rest of Daniel’s prophecies, and all of Scripture, reveal a God who loves humanity so mightily he will not settle for enslavement masquerading as freedom. It is only under God’s lavish grace and rule that we find true freedom from enslaves us most deeply.

Prayer: Lord, too often we are like little children struggling to pull away from their parent’s hand. Forgive us for thinking our better life is away from you, like the child away from their parent, without you we would only be lost. Renew our hearts for you. Guide our lives in your ways. Show us freedom through your love.

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Footnotes

[1] Harvard Class Day, 1988. As quoted by Timothy Keller, The Freedom of the Christian. Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 1998. | [2] http://www.amazon.com/Expulsive-Power-New-Affection-ebook/dp/B003TZLQ9M/

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October 21, 2014

843 Acres: God’s Sovereignty as an Excuse to Sin or Trust?

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Dn 6 (txt | aud, 5:48 min)
Ps 112-113 (txt | aud, 1:51 min)

Sovereignty: Our manipulative subconsciouses frequently tell us that our sins are inconsequential because God is sovereign. We think, I should have prayed about that situation before I jumped into it. But then we quickly justify ourselves, Don’t worry. God is sovereign, even when you don’t seek him first. Yes, this is true that God is sovereign, gracious, and forgiving. Yet his sovereignty is not intended to give us an excuse to sin or to take sin lightly. What, then, is it for?

Conspiracy: As the new king of the massive Median-Persian Empire [1], Darius recognized that Daniel “possessed an extraordinary spirit” and decided to give him charge over the kingdom [2]. Jealous officials, however, feigned interest in Darius’ decision in order to destroy Daniel. Knowing that Daniel worshiped God, they convinced Darius to issue an injunction prohibiting anyone from praying to any god or man besides the king for thirty days—punishable by being cast into the lions’ den [3].

Risk: When Daniel heard about the injunction, he could have used God’s sovereignty as an excuse to obey the statute and disobey the Lord. He could have said to himself, “Surely the Lord did not call me into this position merely to lose it so quickly? What is thirty days anyway? I can pray when the exile is over, when it’s safe.” Yet he did not. Instead, he used God’s sovereignty as a reason to take a risk by continuing to honor God—praying three times a day, kneeling towards Jerusalem [4] and giving thanks to God [5].

Praise: When the officials caught him, they turned him over to Darius, who was forced to throw Daniel in the lions’ den. Daniel was calm as he faced his punishment, while Darius was distraught [6] – he fasted, refused entertainment and could not sleep [7]. Yet Daniel survived and even Darius recognized that his survival was due to God’s sovereignty: “ … He is the living God and enduring forever … His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed … His dominion will be forever … ” [8]

Prayer: Lord, You are sovereign. Yet we often use your sovereignty as license to sin rather than trust. Prepare us to take risks of obedience, as we trust you, believe in you, and put our faith in you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] At sixty-two years old, Darius reigned over the Median-Persian Empire, which was the largest kingdom ever known at this point in world history, stretching to the Atlantic Ocean and past modern-day Libya, east towards India and north towards Turkey. Its massive expanse required efficient organization and, thus, Darius appointed bureaucratic officials (e.g., Daniel) to keep the kingdom intact.  |  [2]  Daniel 6:3 NASB  |  [3]  Daniel 6:7 NASB  |  [4]  He faced Jerusalem because it was a reminder of God’s promises to Israel, a reminder of the prophecies of Jeremiah and a reminder of the presence of God.  |  [5]  See Daniel 6:10  |  [6]  Daniel 6:16  |  [7] Daniel 6:19  |  [8] Daniel 6:26-27

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October 20, 2014

843 Acres: The Tension of Justice

by Steven Dilla

M’Cheyne: Dn 5 (txt | aud, 5:46 min)
Ps 110-111 (txt | aud, 1:59 min)
Highlighted: Ps 110.6

Wages: When Paul says, “the wages of sin is death,” in Romans 6.23, he echoes what the psalmist speaks, on God’s behalf in Psalm 110, “He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.” Reading of God’s action against an entire nation is difficult for modern readers. We long for justice, yet watching it carried out — in full force — is terrifying.

Justice: Among the nations this passage speaks of is that of ancient Edom. The Edomites rebelled against God, savagely pursued his people, and ultimately condemned Christ to death (the line of the Harrods descended from Edom). Although God’s judgement falls on the rebellion of specific nations in this passage, it ultimately extends to the rebellion in all of our lives. All of us have inherited the brokenness of generations past, all of us have found ourselves at opposition with God, and—as passages like this show—not one of us could stand under the judgement of God. We love the justice of God when it acts on our behalf; we fear the reality that, in order to be fully just, it has to move against the sin in our lives as well.

Grace: Yet we are not without hope. Dr. Barry Davis notes, “Psalms 107—109 express anguished pleas for deliverance; Psalms 111— 113 overflow with praise for Yahweh. Psalm 110, the connecting psalm, reveals that the Messiah is both a King and a Priest.”[1] Moreover, the Messiah was the suffering servant. That Christ would face the full judgement of God on our behalf — at such immense cost — is stunning. That he would offer it for free to all who choose him leaves us breathless. There is truly no other way. “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved,” wrote John Newton in “Amazing Grace.” The Christian understanding of justice leaves us humbled by the grace we’ve received and empowered to join God in the restoration his justice brings.

Prayer: Dear Father, how we long for your justice in our world; for through it we are healed from our greatest affliction. We realize how costly it is — thank you for your son, who endured all things, even excruciating separation from you as he died on a cross, on our behalf. We are renewed and hope-filled by your grace.

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Footnotes

[1] Barry C. Davis, “Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?” Bibliotheca Sacra 157:626 (April-June 2000):168.

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