Responding in Kind

Scripture Focus: Psalm 76.5-12
5 The valiant lie plundered, 
they sleep their last sleep; 
not one of the warriors 
can lift his hands. 
6 At your rebuke, God of Jacob, 
both horse and chariot lie still. 
7 It is you alone who are to be feared. 
Who can stand before you when you are angry? 
8 From heaven you pronounced judgment, 
and the land feared and was quiet— 
9 when you, God, rose up to judge, 
to save all the afflicted of the land. 
10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, 
and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. 
11 Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; 
let all the neighboring lands 
bring gifts to the One to be feared. 
12 He breaks the spirit of rulers; 
he is feared by the kings of the earth. 

2 Kings 19.16
…listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.”

Isaiah 37.22
22 this is the word the Lord has spoken against him:
“Virgin Daughter Zion
    despises and mocks you.
Daughter Jerusalem
    tosses her head as you flee.

Reflection: Responding in Kind
By John Tillman

Our recent reading from 2 Kings 19 included the story of Sennachrib’s threats against Jerusalem and his defeat without Judah even lifting a sword. The story repeats in Isaiah 37, and many Psalms, such as Psalm 76, 46, and 59, reflect on it.

Sennacherib claimed other gods had not saved their lands from him, and Judah’s God would fare no differently. Hezekiah physically brought the letter to the Temple, laid it out before the Lord, and read out Sennacherib’s words. “…listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.” (2 Kings 19.16)

Isaiah brought Hezekiah a response to Sennacherib. Isaiah’s poem (Isaiah 37.22-35) is a scoffing prophecy. It returns Sennacherib’s scorn, spite for spite. Isaiah tells the man who thinks himself a god-killer that God will lead him by a hook through his nose.

Like Isaiah, Hezekiah, and the psalmists, we live in a world that is in love with scorn. Simply by living and believing the words of Jesus, we are targets of derision, mockery, and outrage. For trusting in the Bible, we experience attacks, accusations, and even violence.

There are powerful cultural and political forces in this world that treat our God as Sennacherib did. Powerless. Irrelevant. Laughable. Often, we want to strike back with our own scornful takedowns, bluster, and insults.

There’s an old saying that we don’t have to attend every fight we are invited to. While scoffers and scorners sharpen their arrows, let us turn to God and keep our vows to him. God doesn’t need our defense but he does desire our devotion.

Do we have insecurities or bitterness triggered by insults, harm, or attacks? Are there counter-attacks forming in our minds? Insults bubbling in our hearts?

Instead of responding in kind, let us turn their words over to God as Hezekiah did. Lay out their words and actions before the Lord. Read him the tweet. Forward him the email. Show him what was done or said.

There is a time to speak facts and engage in healthy debate. There is a time for sarcasm and biting wit. There is a time to stand as God does, holding out our arms all day long to obstinate people. (Isaiah 65.1-3) There is also a time to close our mouths, let people be wrong, and pray that in his mercy, God will break through where we fail.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
No good things will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity. — Psalm 84.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 22 (Listen 3:45
Psalms 75-76 (Listen 2:33)

Read more about Wisdom & Persuasion
Sennacherib and the Assyrians taunted the Israelites…stoking the people’s fear…fear was a potent tactic.

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — Carols of Advent Hope

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 10:5-7
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
    but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
    I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Matthew 1:20-23
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Reflection: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel — Carols of Advent Hope
By Jon Polk

Somewhere across Italy in the 6th century, a series of Latin chants for the season of Advent began to take shape. By the 8th century, these chants, the “O Antiphons,” were being sung in monasteries and convents around the world.

For over twelve centuries, the seven “O Antiphons,” known also as the “Great Advent Antiphons” or more simply, the “Great Os,” have been sung or recited at vespers from December 17th through 23rd, preceding the “Magnificat of Mary” sung on Christmas Eve.

Around the 12th century, the chanted antiphons were converted into a metrical Latin poem bearing the title, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” This hymn was discovered and translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851, published in his Hymns Ancient and Modern as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The original “O Antiphons” consist of seven passages focused on the meaning of the Incarnation. As might be expected from a series of monastic chants, the resulting hymn is theologically dense, each verse consisting of a Messianic title from scripture with additional explanation.

O Sapientia (Wisdom)
1 Cor. 1:24, “Christ… the wisdom of God”

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh

O Adonai (Lord)
Ex. 3:15, “The LORD, the God of your fathers”

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height

O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
Isa. 11:10, “the Root of Jesse will stand”

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

O Clavis David (Key of David)
Isa. 22:22, “the key to the house of David”

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home

O Oriens (Dayspring)
Luke 1:78, “the dayspring from on high” (KJV)

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh

O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations)
Jer. 10:7, “King of the nations” 

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind

O Emmanuel (God with Us)
Isa. 7:14, “The virgin… will call him Immanuel.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel

The first letters of the titles in reverse is an acrostic of the Latin, “ero cras,” meaning “I will be there tomorrow,” a sentiment appropriate for Advent as we await the return of Christ.

Before we rush into the joyful exuberance of the Christmas season, distracted by parades, pageants, and presents, the calm and quiet “O Come, O Come” reminds us that all the trimmings and trappings of the season are temporary. Our true hope and longing is for another Kingdom where the coming Messiah King soothes our doubts, heals our afflictions, wipes our sorrowful tears, and rescues us from captivity to sin.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Listen: O Come, O Come Emmanuel by Sixpence None the Richer
Read: Lyrics from

From John: I was excited to see Jon writing on the O Antiphons since I was only introduced to them last year when the church I attend used them as the focus of our Advent season. You can check out more info about them on our church’s website, including a video explaining their history, sermons from last year, and pictures of an art gallery focused on the O Antiphons. (You can even spot me and my wife, Melissa, looking at the art in the gallery.)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings.

Today’s Readings
Daniel 12 (Listen 2:40)
Hebrews 10 (Listen 5:33)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
We believe Christians, changed by the Bible, will change the world. We need your help to provide biblical content for free with no ads and no agendas.

Read more about One Worth Rejoicing In
Leaders…shrivel before our eyes like a diseased root…but there is a leader coming, the “Root of David”, who will set all things right.

Prayer Beyond Petitions—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Bonus:
This is a “bonus” Readers’ Choice from 2018. Thank you for your readership. You don’t have to wait until next Summer to send Readers’ Choice selections. You can submit them all through the year at the following link: Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on June 6, 2018, based on Isaiah 38.2-3.
It was selected by reader, Susan Houg, Ft. Jones, CA: “I had just about bought into the false premise about prayer not changing things – except for oneself – when this essay posted. The Lord used it to revive my expectation, based on His character, teachings and history, that He is honored and glorified and, indeed, pleased when we bring our urgent as well as long-term needs to Him. Recently I had occasion to pray, “Even the wind and waves obey You. Please stop these winds from spreading this fire.” And you know what? That fire (McKinney) laid down and stayed within its containment lines. Firefighters considered it “unusual.””

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 38.2-3
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Reflection: Prayer Beyond Petitions—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

The adage, “Prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us,” is a cop-out.

If it is anything other than a cop-out it is at best a description of only part of what prayer is. It diminishes prayer to a self-counseling tool, a mere coping mechanism.

Todd Edmondson discusses this in his essay, Praying for a Change:

Such a perspective, however neat and tidy it might be, is profoundly unsatisfying and contradictory to what the Church has long held to be true.

When we envision prayer solely as something we do, as a work of human agency, it is almost impossible not to see it as a ritual designed for our benefit, as an incantation in which only the most superstitious or simple-minded people believe.

The healing of Hezekiah from his illness is a unique scriptural example of a prayer for change for several reasons.

There is not a formula to be applied in a prayer for change other than giving ourselves to a relationship with God. We cannot attribute success to Hezekiah’s words or the words of any recorded prayer. We must, instead, get to know Hezekiah’s God.

That our prayers to God would bring the realities of this world into contact with divine purposes, or that God would join us in our this-worldly struggles, should not strike us as odd or irrational, because it is exactly what God has been doing for thousands of years… Indeed, other methods of affecting change and other recipients of our trust—from politics to technology to military might—would seem to be far less proved than prayer, if our memories were not so short and our imaginations so easily manipulated by the kingdoms of this world.

It is more important that we know God through prayer than petition him. God answers Hezekiah’s unasked prayer through relationship. Our needs, like Hezekiah’s will be apparent to God, when we invest time in a relationship that goes beyond petition.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” — Luke 12.32

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 11(Listen 3:53)
Romans 14(Listen 3:28)

Read more about Finding God :: A Guided Prayer
Even today my complaint is bitter;
his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

Read more about Artful Prayers
May we live artfully in the power of the Holy Spirit, creating with our lives a prayer that may be seen, heard, felt.

Clear the Old Growth—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on June 14, 2022, based on Isaiah 10.33-34 and Matthew 3.10b
It was selected by reader, Brad, from Texas: 
“I found this devotional poetically crafted and incredibly dense with meaning: turning our impossibly sized enemies over to God, trusting Him to deal with them as we remain steadfast in our trust and devotion to the many dimensions of God-honoring character.”

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 10.33-34
33 See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
the tall ones will be brought low.
34 He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.

Matthew 3.10b
10b Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Reflection: Clear the Old Growth—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

I worked, for a few weeks, as a lumber surveyor’s assistant in the piney woods of East Texas.

I would drive a stake in the ground and then plow as straight a path as possible along a compass heading, dragging a long, smooth strip of hard plastic, called a “chain.” I wasn’t to turn to the left or the right. Unless it was impossible, I had to push straight through brush, bushes, or thorns.

The surveyor would step on the chain to stop me when the tape reached the stake. Then, I would drive another stake and wait. By tugging on the chain, he would signal me to continue straight or turn 90 degrees left or right. In this way, we marked off squares of wooded land, and calculated the value of its trees based on the ratio of “quality” trees to trees that were not useful or valuable.

In Macbeth, the wicked-hearted king is given a prophecy that he cannot be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Macbeth assumes he is invincible. For when does a wood travel?

Similarly, Assyria grew overconfident. Sennacherib knew God’s word well enough to twist its meaning in his threats to Jerusalem, yet he had no respect for God. He thought he was a god and all other gods were idols. He expected to overwhelm Jerusalem as easily as Samaria. Sennacherib’s army was an impossible, forest-like foe, covering the ground and overwhelming the land.

The foes we face don’t determine our fate. Like Hezekiah, we can turn them over to God. Isaiah promised that the Assyrian army would be cut down in a day. The “lofty” and “tall” trees would fall before God’s ax. 

In the ancient near east, trees were valuable and important—especially the highly valued cedars of Lebanon. Yet no earthly value or importance will stop God’s judgment. God’s ax “is already at the root of the trees.” (Matthew 3.10)

Instead of focusing on outward enemies we have little control over, let us survey our inner forest and the foes we find there. With sober judgment, let us clear the old growth, turning neither to the left nor the right, cutting down pride, selfishness, hatred, fear, greed, and lusts so that better fruits may flourish in the forests of our hearts.

“Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 50 (Listen 8:42)
2 Corinthians 9 (Listen 2:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 51 (Listen 10:15) 2 Corinthians 10 (Listen 2:45)
Jeremiah 52 (Listen 5:49) 2 Corinthians 11 (Listen 4:46)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Thank you for your recommended posts from the last 12 months. Which one helped you understand scripture?

Read more about Uprooting and Replanting
People uproot thornbushes and burn them. Then they plant fruitful vines in their place.

Two Roads Diverged in Barren Land—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on July 7, 2022, based on Isaiah 35:8a
It was selected by reader, Jon: 
“As a child, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost was my favorite poem, long before I had any idea of what it really meant. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about the poem that drew me to it as a kid, but every time I read those words, I am flooded with a feeling of childlike wonder. I don’t know, maybe it is Narnia-like in its calling to the road not taken…”

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 35:8a
8 And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.

Reflection: Two Roads Diverged in Barren Land—Readers’ Choice
By Erin Newton

At the end of Isaiah’s long prophecy of judgment, the message shifts. A vision of the future—a vision of all things made right.

Isaiah describes God’s people like a caravan along a road in the wasteland. Distraught and downtrodden, a new path is cut through the desert.

One path is silent, cold, and stark.
The Way is filled with praise and joy.

One path is a road winding down into a desolate land.
The Way cuts through the wasteland leaving signs of life along the way.

One path is burdensome and hard, a place where strength and hearts fail.
The Way whispers, “Peace, be still. He is coming to save.”

One path is often difficult; strength and ability are stolen away.
            The Way makes one whole; it heals the body and soul.

One path is deadly; there is nothing to sustain life.
            The Way turns death into life; it has everything needed to thrive.

One path is traveled by wicked and dangerous people.
            The Way is filled with redeemed travelers singing songs of praise.

One path is marked by hopeless sorrow and afflicted groans.
            The Way bestows burgeoning gladness and eternal joy.

Like the poem by Robert Frost, two roads diverge. To continue on our usual path would mean continuing in a fruitless journey, exiled from God. But how exactly do we step onto the path that leads to life?

When Jesus warns his disciples that he must leave soon to return to the Father, Thomas asks for a roadmap to heaven (John 14). “How will we know the way?” Jesus simply replied, “I am the Way.” The path to life is through Jesus himself.

Even though Isaiah described a marvelous future promised to God’s people, we struggle to see this kind of utopian future now. The flowers are not bursting forth in song. The blind and lame and deaf are without healing. Ravenous beasts meet us on the road to harm us.

The Way of Holiness is a via dolorosa, a difficult path. Our Lord walked this path to redeem us from death. Let us take up our crosses to follow the Way.  It is not without hope.

We take the first steps of this new road paved by the blood of Jesus. The world around us still shows signs of desolation and despair but the word in the air says, “Peace, he is coming.” The Way is good.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him. — Psalm 62.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 49(Listen 7:15)
2 Corinthians 8(Listen 3:25)

Readers’ Choice is Here!
Thank you for your recommended posts from the last 12 months. Which one helped you forgive?

Read more about The Path of the Cross
A Christ who brings earthly victory enjoys near universal welcome…Everyone rejected this suffering Christ. Even the closest of his disciples.