Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143

Read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would they respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer than what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23). “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123

Today we’re reading Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123.

This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “…we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you…,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God–absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone?

The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life–at work or in your family or neighborhood–who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your family. What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received–his salvation from death–to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” — a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk….” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered… my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation–both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.