2 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 23

Read 2 Samuel 16 and Ezekiel 23.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 23.

Societies do not look kindly on prostitutes. Some women are forced into prostitution against their will due to economic hardship or threats of violence or through slavery. If we knew their stories, we might look on them more kindly on these women and put more shame on the men who hire them. The reasons, however, do not justify prostitution and it is wicked in God’s sight.

In this chapter God compared Israel, represented by Samaria (v. 4d), and Judah, represented by Jerusalem (v. 4d) as prostitutes. Their idolatry is compared to prostitution in the sense that they desired and gave themselves to other gods instead of to the God of their covenant (v. 49). God explained and defended the judgment that Israel received from the Assyrians and the judgment that would come to the Judeans as the consequences of their unfaithfulness to him. The logic of this passage goes like this: “You want to give yourself to the gods of the Assyrians? I’ll marry you to the Assyrians in every way.”

The purpose of this passage is to teach us to empathize with God. God loves his people and married himself to them by a covenant. Instead of wanting God as much as god wanted them, Israel and Judah pined for others. If your spouse did that to you, you would be hurt; it would also arouse in you deep feelings of anger and betrayal. You’d feel this way both toward your spouse who wanted someone else and the person that he or she wanted instead of you.

This is how God feels when we love material things more than we love him. It’s how he feels when entertainment is more appealing to us than worship. It describes the pain he experiences when being accepted in society matters more to us than ordering our lives by his commands. James 4:4 uses this very language to warn us: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

In Christ, there is hope for our adulterous hearts. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

This is what we need when our hearts are captivated by other things more than God. We need to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness and deliverance. If you find yourself valuing other things above your walk with God, let this passage help you understand why God responds the way he does. He is jealous for you (v. 25) and wants you back.

2 Samuel 12, Ezekiel 19

Read 2 Samuel 12 and Ezekiel 19.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 12.

Nathan the prophet showed up seemingly out of nowhere at key times in David’s life. He showed up back in chapter 7 when David desired to build a temple for the Lord. Although he gave David the go-ahead initially, Nathan had to go back to the king and tell him that God had revealed something different. I don’t know if Nathan found it difficult to tell David that God wanted Solomon, not David, to build the temple. But at least God gave Nathan the Davidic Covenant to reveal as well, so there was some good news to give the king in that instance.

Here there is no good news to reveal. Nathan’s job is a tough one. It is always unpleasant, uncomfortable to tell someone that they have sinned. Imagine doing so to the king—a king who had Uriah killed to keep his adultery a secret. Tough job, and a scary one as well.

Nathan wisely used a fictional story to begin the conversation in verses 1-4. Drawing from David’s background as a shepherd, he appealed to David’s inherent sense of justice. You would have to be pretty cold-blooded to read Nathan’s story and not be outraged by how calloused, how unrighteous, how absolutely abusive the rich man was toward the man who was poor. The story had the result that Nathan intended; “David burned with anger against the man” according to verse 5 and sentenced the man to death (v. 5b). David’s response was extreme; as much as the poor man loved his little lamb, it was only a lamb. The second part of David’s sentence, “He must pay for that lamb four times over,” described a more appropriate penalty. But David’s words reveal how deeply outraged he was that the man “…did such a thing and had no pity” (v. 6). Only then, when David was could see the injustice clearly and empathized with the victim, did Nathan lower the boom. This was not a story about a rich man, a poor man, and one little lamb. No, Nathan dropped the story and simply said, “You are the man!” The story was about David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murderous attempt to cover it up.

Nathan’s indirect approach was incredibly effective because it got David to see the objectively sinful and selfish thing that he had done. Had Nathan directly brought up the issue of Bathsheba with him, David could have denied it or tried to justify it. Or, David might have added Nathan to the body count in order to continue the cover up. But by appealing to David’s humanity and sense of justice, Nathan was able to elicit a full confession from David (v. 13).

It is amazing how wicked sin seems when someone else gets caught. Even when we are guilty of the exact same sin, it feels justifiable to us but indefensible when the perpetrator is someone else. This is why, sometimes, we need direct confrontation. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” may have been said in the context of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:31, KJV), but it is true concerning every sin. If we would listen to our conscience, if we were as ruthless in applying the Bible to ourselves as we are to others, our walk with Christ would be straighter and we’d be a lot less judgmental toward others.

That is why we need, sometimes, confrontation like David received from Nathan. When we have been lying to ourselves what we need most is someone who will tell us the truth. Although this kind of personal confrontation is always difficult and never fun, it is truly loving. Sin is always destructive, so the most loving thing you can do to someone entrapped in sin is to surgically apply the truth to their lives to help them extract the cancer of wickedness before it consumes them. This is what Galatians 6:1-2 means when it says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Or as James put it, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (5:20).

The lessons are clear: (1) If someone confronts you about your sins, be wise and repent fully as David did here in 2 Samuel 12. (2) If you know of someone who is living in unrepentant sin, bring it prayerfully and lovingly to their attention so that they can repent and find forgiveness in Christ.

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Read Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing according to Deuteronomy 24:1. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army. They attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies. But, he never really led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

  1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
  2. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
  3. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

Judges 5, Jeremiah 18

Read Judges 5 and Jeremiah 18.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible. In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” indicates that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” This explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure.

Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them?

Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of Judah’s rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understands, for the first time in his life, how God feels. He knew personally what it was like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and be personally rejected despite that gracious offer. He knew what it was like now to be righteous and have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness and he is so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross. What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness.

This is something to keep in mind when we struggle with temptation; if we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 11

Read Joshua 22 and Jeremiah 11.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 11.

The first seventeen verses of this chapter continued Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah but then verses 18-23 interrupted that prophecy abruptly. Some of God’s people were tired of hearing about his anger and coming wrath. Instead of heeding the message, they decided to kill the messenger (v. 19b). Jeremiah was completely unaware that there was a plot afoot against him (v. 19a) but God supernaturally revealed it to him (v. 18).

Jeremiah responded to this plot not by running away to some distant land. Instead, he called on God to deal with his enemies justly. He appealed to God’s righteousness and his knowledge of everyone’s hearts and minds (v. 20a-b). Then he requested in verse 20c-d that God bring his wrath on those who sought to kill him. God answered Jeremiah’s prayer and promised to “bring disaster” on his enemies (v. 23b). But that disaster would happen in God’s time–“in the year of their punishment” (v. 23b).

Note that Jeremiah’s request for God’s justice was based on truth. He mentioned that God is one who will “test the heart and the mind” (v. 20b). This shows that Jeremiah was not seeking an unfair punishment just because he was disliked by “the people of Anathoth” (v. 21a). He was not asking God to carry out his personal vendetta but was asking God to do the right thing as a perfectly righteous judge.

Although God divinely protected Jeremiah in this instance, he did allow Jeremiah to experience persecution at other times in his life as we will read about in future devotionals. God also allowed other faithful prophets of his to be killed. So God does not always promise or provide absolute protection for his people or even for those who are serving him in difficult circumstances. What God does provide is protection within his will and just punishment in his timing.

This should give us comfort when we hear of persecution of other brothers and sisters of ours in Christ and if or when we experience persecution for Christ. God is watching over your life and he will hear and answer your requests for help. But, as his servants, we must believe that he knows best about when and how to administer his justice.

It is also important to remember that God may choose to have mercy on persecutors. The very people you would like to see experience God’s judgment might be ones God chooses to save. Think about Stephen, for a moment, the first Christian martyr. He was executed for preaching Christ (Acts 7) and could have justly called for God’s justice on his persecutors. Instead, with his dying breath, he called out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60b). One of those who persecuted him and for whom he prayed as Saul of Tarsus (8:1). God allowed Saul to continue persecuting God’s children for a while, but then he saved Saul and used him to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. That was an answer to Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60.

All of us were guilty before God and deserve his righteous wrath; those of us in Christ have received his mercy despite our sins. It is appropriate to pray for God’s justice when someone persecutes you but it is also Christlike to pray for God’s mercy.

Is someone making your life difficult because you are a believer in Christ? Have you prayed for God to have mercy on them or to bring justice to them in his time and according to his will? Instead of holding anger and resentment toward others, these are the righteous ways to deal with persecution. As Romans 12:18-21 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 10

Read Joshua 20-21 and Jeremiah 10.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Here we are, ten chapters into the prophecies of Jeremiah and many more chapters to go. And what have we been reading? Condemnation of sin and predictions of judgment, mostly.

Chapter 10 here is no exception. God spoke to his people (v. 1a) urging them to stop following the idolatry of other nations (vv. 2-5, 8-11) and instead to fear God (vv. 6-7) the true God (v. 10) and creator of all things (vv. 11-16). So, verses 1-16 hit the “condemnation of sin” button pretty hard.

Beginning in verse 17, the “predictions of judgment” began. You might as well pack up and leave now (v. 17) because you’ll be leaving one way or the other (v. 18).

After all this, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord in verses 23-25. He did not ask God to reconsider his plan for judgment or try to make a case that his people were undeserving of God’s wrath. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to the will of God (v. 23) and asked God to use the coming problems as an act of discipline, not anger (v. 24). Finally, he asked for God’s wrath to fall on Israel’s enemies for their sins against God’s people (v. 25).

What strikes me here in this section (vv. 23-25) is the tender-hearted humility of Jeremiah. Despite being a faithful prophet of God and a godly man, he knew that this life was not perfect before God. Instead of asking God to focus on “the real sinners” out there first, he asked for God to bring the loving hand of discipline into his own life, breaking his will and his sin-patterns without personally breaking him apart (v. 24c). This is an attitude far from our natural inclination to feel that God has treated us unjustly if something unpleasant comes into our lives. It shows his reverence for God, a recognition of God’s absolute lordship over everyone (v. 23).

Is this the attitude you bring to your walk with God? Have you ever asked God to discipline you, to purge out from our heart and your life anything that displeases him? It is a scary thing to ask for because God’s discipline can be very painful. Yet, as a loving Father, we can trust him not to pulverize us as he does his enemies, but to deliver a healing wound, like a surgeon does. When the doctor cuts a person open to remove the cancer from his body, a painful wound results and, even after that heals, a permanent scar is often left behind. Yet we thank the surgeon for healing us instead of complaining about the wound and the scars.

So it is with our Lord. When he hurts his children, it is for our ultimate good, our spiritual growth, to strengthen us to live more holy lives. May we emulate the prayer of Jeremiah in those moments of pain.

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 7

Read Joshua 14-15 and Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Read Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will–even when it is bitter–and follow him obediently.

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

The previous chapters in this book explained the various offerings God had commanded his people to bring (Lev 1-7), the dedication of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8), and the beginning of their service to the Lord on behalf of Israel (Lev 9). Their ministry had just begun and, here in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons broke the Law of Moses and displeased God with “unauthorized fire” (v. 10).

What exactly they did wrong is not explained to us. It could have been incorporating some pagan worship element in the offering. It could have been that they were drunk when making the offering (which maybe why verses 8ff are in this chapter). It could have been that they entered the Most Holy Place even though it was not the Day of Atonement. We just don’t know specifically what they did but whatever it was, it was done in willful disobedience to God’s word. This is why God acted as swiftly as he did. Instead of fearing the Lord and doing their ministry in that spirit, they attempted to worship God in an unholy way.

Moses responded swiftly and told Aaron and all the other priests exactly what to do next. This was to re-enforce that Nadab and Abihu were completely in the wrong and to keep the other priests from compounding the sin by disobeying God’s commands in other ways while they served as priests.

Still, despite Moses’s best efforts to keep the priests on an obedient path, they broke God’s law in verses 16-18 by not eating “the sin offering in the sanctuary area” (vv. 17-18). Moses was angry about this, too (v. 16) and confronted the priests about this violation. Aaron spoke up for the others and asked, given the fact that “such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” That satisfied Moses (v. 20) and no punishments resulted.

But what exactly did Aaron mean by, “such things as this have happened to me…”?

To answer that question, we must remember that Aaron was ordered not to grieve the death of his sons while he was on duty as a priest (vv. 6-7). These orders were directed at the outward signs of mourning; they were forbidden from tearing their clothes or allowing their hair to become disheveled which was a common way of showing mourning.

Although Moses commanded them not to mourn externally, they were of course sad and distraught on the inside, both due to the sin of Nadab and Abihu and due their deaths. So Aaron’s response to Moses in verse 19 seems to have meant something like, “We fulfilled our duties to the Lord as priests despite the sorrow we have. The only part we didn’t complete was the part that benefited us, eating the meat from the offering. Because we are mourning, none of us felt like eating. Since the meal is supposed to be for our benefit anyway, is God really displeased that we didn’t eat it? Would God have been glorified if we feasted away while our hearts were breaking?” If that’s what Aaron meant, it is a compelling argument and, therefore, not surprising that Moses was satisfied by it.

The most important part of what Aaron said, however, is totally clear: “Would the Lord have been pleased…?” His motives for allowing the sin offering to be consumed like the burnt offering instead of eaten were to glorify God. In every other circumstance, he would have obeyed God’s directions completely but, given these circumstances, it would be more glorifying to God for them to fast rather than eat the meal as if nothing were wrong.

The truth of this passage, then, is that the motives behind what you do for the Lord matter more than what you do for the Lord. This is something the Old Testament prophets emphasized and Jesus spoke about often as well. It is never right to disobey God because of your feelings; but there are times when it is not totally clear what the best way to glorify God is. In those times, one should seek to honor God and act in a way that is consistent with trying to honor God.

From time to time people in our church ask me about various ethical dilemmas they have. Things like:

  • Should I attend a baby shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock, especially if the mother is unrepentant? It isn’t the baby’s fault, but does it send a wrong message?
  • Should I attend the wedding of someone who professes Christ but is marrying an unbeliever? What if I’m not really convinced that the professing believer truly knows Christ?

These and other situations call for wisdom and they bring stress (and distress) to many conscientious believers. Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I try to reason aloud with the person asking the question from clear Scriptural truths and see if any seem to apply in the situation they are asking about.

Often, though, it ends in a judgment call. A passage like this gives us some comfort. If we are seeking to please the Lord–not to justify or excuse a sin that we really want to do but earnestly seeking to please him–then that matters more to God than scrupulous obedience to his commands from a cold heart.

Are you facing any tough decisions where the right thing to do is not 100% clear despite the fact that you’ve sought counsel from the Lord and from godly people? Take comfort that God knows your motives and that he is gracious and merciful to us, especially when we want to please him.

Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, Psalm 87

Today’s readings are Exodus 39, Proverbs 15, and Psalm 87.

This devotional is about Proverbs 15:4.

The words that come out of our mouths are clear, direct expressions of what is in our heart. Jesus said so (Matt 12:34) and my experience shows that it is true. What you say reflects what you think about, how you look at the world, where your trust is, what you value, and what you desire.

But words have more power than merely revealing what is inside of us. In fact, the right words can change a person’s heart. Proverbs 15:4a says, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life.” The “tongue” in this verse, of course, is a literary way of describing someone’s words. Those words are described as “soothing.” Who needs to be soothed? An angry person, a heartbroken person, and anyone else who is troubled. Soothing words to a troubled heart are described here in Proverbs 15:4 as “a tree of life.” This is another figure of speech that harkens back to Genesis 2-3, where the Bible tells us there was a “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden that would give eternal life to anyone who ate its fruit. So when Solomon wrote here in Proverbs 15:4, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life” he taught us that words can be life-giving to someone who is troubled. The right words have the power to turn the thinking (repentance), feeling, or decision making of someone who is angry or someone who is hurting or anyone else who is troubled.

In contest, the other half of Proverbs 15b says, “but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” The word “perverse” describes words that are twisted morally. Solomon is describing speech that is sinful–critical, angry, unthankful, inappropriate, or twisted in some other way. This kind of talk “crushes the spirit,” indicating its affect on someone’s internal meaning-maker–the way they think and feel about the world. When are troubled and receive criticism or bad advice, it hurts us both in the sense that it causes us pain and points us in a bad direction.

This Proverb gives us an opportunity to think about the power of words to change a person’s life. First of all, your own words to yourself about God or yourself can either bring life or crush your spirit. This is one of many reasons why we need to read God’s word daily and apply it ourselves.

A second application of this Proverb has to do with how we speak to others who are troubled. The right words can be life-giving to troubled heart that trusts God but is hurting. Job found that with his friends and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. When you see others hurting, do you think about what you might say that can bring life into their troubled situation or at least point them to God, the source of life?

Finally, where do we go when we are hurting? Do we go to God’s word? Do we seek prayer, advice, or comfort from people who love God? Do we turn within where our self-talk can be self-defeating? Do we turn to unwise people who will encourage us to seek revenge or who will say things that make us even more discouraged?

Words reflect who we are on the inside but they also have the power to change us on the inside, too. Respect the power of words and learn to use them in a way that gives life to yourself and others.

Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, Psalm 82

Today we’re reading Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, and Psalm 82.

This devotional is about Exodus 34.

In Exodus 33 we read, yesterday, that Moses wanted to see the glory of God (33:18). God promised that Moses would hear an announcement of God’s goodness (33:19) and see a glimpse His glory (vv. 20-23).

Here in Exodus 34, we read Moses’s description of how God kept that promise. Whatever Moses saw, he did not describe it for us in this passage. He did, however, describe what he heard. When God wanted to show Moses his glory, God proclaimed his name: “The LORD, the LORD” (YHWH, v. 6b) followed by a description of God’s character: “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (vv. 6c-7).

When God wanted to reveal his glory, he described himself in words, in theological propositions. He did show Moses something at various times (see Ex 24:10, 33:11, 23) but whatever Moses saw was a physical representation of God (probably, the person of Christ) not the essence of God. That’s because God is spirit (Jn 4:24, 1 Tim 6:15b-16) so a visible, physical presence is not part of his essence. The only aspect of God that we can understand is his Word–his description of himself in human languages.

If you want to know God, learn theology. That’s how God has revealed himself. The better you learn your theology, the better you will know God. But truly knowing God goes beyond memorizing statements about his character. Truly knowing God requires experiencing his character; that is, we see his compassion, his grace, his slowness to anger, his abounding love and faithfulness, and his forgiveness. We see these truths he has revealed about himself–first in his Word as we read about his work in the lives of others, then in our own lives as we walk with him. Again, if you want to know God, learn theology; then notice how theology impacts and changes everyday life.

What Moses learned about God in this passage is paradoxical. On one hand, God is “compassionate” “gracious” “slow to anger” “abounding in love” and “forgiving [of] wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (vv. 6b-7). Verse 7b, however, says that God “…does not leave the guilty unpunished….” How can God forgive wickedness without leaving the guilty unpunished? The answer is Jesus. We know God’s love and forgiveness in him because he received the punishment that we guilty sinners deserved. This is the glory and greatness of our God. When we consider these things, they should cause us to act like Moses who “…bowed to the ground at once and worshiped” (v. 8).