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.

Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 111

Today we’re reading Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, and Psalm 111.

This devotional is about Leviticus 25.

The people of Israel were dependent on God for everything while they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Here in Leviticus 25, verses 1-22, God gave some laws that would keep them dependent on him, if they obeyed them. These laws extended the notion of Sabbath rest to the land. God’s people were commanded to leave the land alone every 7th year (v. 4) and live by whatever it produced on its own without any sowing, cultivation or reaping (v. 6).

Think about that. The idea of having a Sabbatical year after every six years of work sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? “Take the next year off” your boss tells you. “We’ll send you a profit sharing check based on whatever money comes in, even though we’re not going to work or produce anything. It should be fine.”

When you put it that way, taking a year off sounds pretty terrifying. Land doesn’t ordinarily produce crops on its own, so just loafing around for a year and eating whatever shows up sounds incredibly risky.

That’s exactly the point. As the Lord said in verse 21, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” Taking a Sabbatical was an act of faith. It was taking God at his word that he would provide for his people. It wasn’t exactly a miraculous provision, like the manna from heaven was, but it was a divine provision. It would be an extraordinary event for God to make the land produce in this way, a reversal of the curse in Genesis 3:17-19, but that’s what God promised. He was promising a blessing to his people–the blessing of rest–if they simply trusted him.

God’s people didn’t trust him, so they did not obey this command. When God allowed Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians, it was in part to fulfill this passage. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” A great blessing was there for the taking but unbelief and fear kept it from happening.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What blessings you and I might be missing because unbelief and fear cause us to disobey God’s commands?

Exodus 17, Job 35, Psalm 65

Today’s readings are Exodus 17, Job 35 and Psalm 64.

This devotional is about Exodus 17.

The people of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt. They were oppressed and abused by the Egyptians, but at least the Egyptians provided for their needs. Now that God has liberated them, they have their freedom. But that meant their Egyptian overlords were no longer there to provide them with food and water and shelter.

In yesterday’s reading, they looked back with nostalgia on their time as slaves. In Exodus 16:3b we read, “in Egypt… we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” It seems like they were exaggerating how well the Egyptians provided for them but, faced with starvation and dehydration, the meager provisions of slavery seemed better.

Here in Exodus 17, Moses and the Israelites needed a miracle to survive. God provided that miracle through Moses (vv. 5-7) and then protected them from the attacks of the Amalekites (vv. 8-16). Before providing these things, however, God let Moses and the Israelites feel the crisis of their lack of water and food. Why?

One reason was so that the people would learn to depend on him. As a “free” people, they would need to learn how to provide for themselves. But God wanted them to know that they were not alone; he was watching over them to provide for them and bless them. These crises in the desert were designed to make God’s people look to him when they needed help, not to the Egyptians who had provided for them for so long.

These crises had another affect as well. Did you notice how God made a point in verse 5 of having Moses and the elders of Israel stand before the people? And, in the battle with the Amalekites, notice how Joshua was designated by Moses to lead the battle (v. 9) and then the Lord commanded Moses to make sure Joshua heard his commands about the Amalekites (vv. 14-15).

All of these things were designed to teach the people to trust the Lord and the leaders he chose for them. They were also designed to teach the leaders that God would be with them and make their leadership effective. Crises have a way of revealing what and who we trust and each one is an opportunity to relocate our trust in a godly direction.

Keep this in mind if you’re facing a crisis or if you encounter one soon. Is the Lord testing your faith and exposing whether or not your trust is where it should be? Use the moments of trial in your life to turn to the Lord in full dependence so that your trust is fully in him.

Exodus 3, Job 20, Psalm 51

Today we’re reading Exodus 3, Job 20, and Psalm 51.

This devotional is about Exodus 3.

The early years of Moses’s life were like a fairy tale. He was saved from infanticide by Pharaoh’s daughter (but really by a resourceful mother) and raised in Pharaoh’s household. That gave him insight into the politics of Egypt as well as learning that would have been inaccessible to any other Hebrew boy.

When he was old enough to be a man, he tried to become a leader for Israel. As we read yesterday in Exodus 2, Moses killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Jewish man. Instead of causing other Jewish men to rally behind him as their leader, however, they simply gossiped about what he had done and put his life in jeopardy.

Now, after years in desert obscurity, God called him to be the leader he had attempted to be many years earlier. This time, however, Moses was unwilling. In this chapter we read excuse after excuse given by Moses to God’s command to him. The next chapter gives us even more excuses. This man who was once an enthusiastic volunteer for Jewish liberation now wanted nothing more than to stay in the desert with his family and be a shepherd in obscurity.

His reluctance to lead, however, shows that he was now exactly where God wanted him to be. Instead of leading out of personal self-confidence, he needed to be personally compelled and persuaded by God himself to do this important job. For the first time in his life, he was ready to be a spiritual leader, not just a political/military leader. Moses knew that he was incapable of doing what God called him to do. If he were going to be successful, he would need to be absolutely dependent on the power of God.

This is what each of us needs to live and lead for God everyday. Knowing our own incapability to do what God commands us to do, we must look to God for power, wisdom, and results. Drawing from Israel’s lessons of failure in the desert, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Trusting God means asking for his help and strength because we understand how easily we fall.

Genesis 37, Job 3, Psalm 35

Read Genesis 37, Job 3, and Psalm 35.

This devotional is about Job 3.

Job received the blows of affliction well in chapters 1-2. He recognized that he was not entitled to the life he enjoyed and that God, as Sovereign, had every right to take away what he gave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Job felt no pain. Here in chapter 3, he lamented being born. The pain of losing his children, his prosperity, and his health was greater than the joy he had experienced from those things. Dying before he lived long enough to enjoy anything was a more appealing prospect than losing the blessed life he’d had. His concluding words in verses 25-26 make your heart go out to him: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Although he maintained faith in God, he still hurt and wondered why.

It seems to me that many Christians believe that heartbreak is un-Christian. We feel guilty about mourning; we think that glorifying God means smiling through every trial. We often put smiles on our faces to hide our pain so that other’s won’t question our salvation or spiritual maturity. But there is a way of hurting, of crying out, of wondering why that does not curse God. Submission to the will of God does not mean turning off your feelings. Trusting God does not mean eradicating all questions from your heart and mind. It means processing all the pain while recognizing your dependence on God. It means looking to him for hope and help instead of as an object of cursing.

Have you suppressed your questions, fears, and heartaches because you think that’s what good Christians do? If so, you haven’t really solved anything nor have you opened up the capacity within yourself to grow from your trials. God allows our faith to be tried to expose to us pockets of unbelief and to refine them out of us. Being honest about how you feel is part of that process.

If you’re hurting today or wondering why, ask God. Journal your thoughts and fears. Wonder aloud. Just don’t accuse God of evil and injustice. Ask him, instead, to show you how your circumstances fit into his plans. Ask him to strengthen you through this trial so that you will grow because of it.