Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, Acts 14

Read Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, and Acts 14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 31.

The Assyrian Empire dominated the Middle East 700 years before Christ. They defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and scattered the people in those tribes away from the Promised Land. That was a direct result of Israel’s disobedience to God’s Law.

Although the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem remained in the Promised Land assigned to them, they were oppressed by the Assyrians and fearful that Assyria would defeat them as they had Israel.

Hezekiah was a godly king of Judah in many ways, be he also did some foolish things. His advisors urged him to create an alliance with the Egyptians but Isaiah pronounced a curse (v. 1: “woe”) on anyone who was looking to the Egyptians for military strength against the Assyrians. The reason for this curse is stated at the end of verse 1; they seek help from Egypt “… but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” As mighty as the Egyptians were, they were not nearly as powerful an ally as the Lord himself was for Judah, if they would only trust him. “But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together” (v. 3).

God had promised to protect and defend his people and that promise is repeated here in Isaiah 31 (v. 4), but humans naturally seek human solutions to human problems rather than looking to God for supernatural or providential solutions to human problems.

You and I do this, too. We go Googling for the answer almost immediately when we encounter a problem, but often we forget God altogether or pray as if he won’t help us anyway. This passage reminds us to turn to God, claim his promises and call for his help when we face pressures and problems in our lives.

Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, Acts 9

Read Leviticus 26, Isaiah 24, and Acts 9.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply of food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God, who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God.

But notice that God described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age.

We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We can also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship.

If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

2 Kings 22, Joel 1

Read 2 Kings 22 and Joel 1.

This devotional is about Joel 1.

The prophet Joel tells us little about himself and it is difficult to know from his prophecy when exactly he lived and spoke the Lord’s word. It seems likely that Joel ministered after God’s people returned to the land under Cyrus, king of Persia. All of the prophecies about the Northern Kingdom’s defeat to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom’s exile by the Babylonians had been fulfilled. So, too, had God’s promise to return his people to the promised land.

Even though the exiles were over, God’s people were not immune from problems and suffering. Joel 1 describes a different kind of disaster than the military defeats the other prophets foretold. In verses 2-4 we are told that locusts had invaded the land and devastated the crops. Wave after wave (v. 4) of locusts came until there was no harvest left. This left God’s people in dire economic circumstances. They had no grain, vegetables or fruit to eat and none to sell (v. 11). They still had animals, but what would they eat (v. 13)? In a farming-based economy, this would mean starvation and economic ruin for the whole nation.

Joel calls to the leaders of the land–the elders (v. 2) and priests (v. 13) to turn to God at this time (v. 19). This is one human resopnse to a problem like this; the other is to reject God, to curse him and die as Job’s wife counseled him to do in another time and place.

What is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to you? Losing a war against a world power like Israel did to Assyria and Judah did to Babylon would be devastating. None of us reading this have experienced anything like that, thankfully.

But have you faced an economic wipeout–bankruptcy, unempoloyment, or something else? Did it bring you before the face of God in prayer, pleading for his help or did it make you bitter against him, turning away from him in anger?

God allows many kinds of trials into our lives (James 1:2-12). They are all designed to reveal whether we really love and trust him or if we say and act as if we love and trust him while things are good. In other words, trials reveal who the true believers are and who thinks they are a believer when they are not.

But trials also refine the faith of true believers. They show us where our faith in God is weak and teach us to fully depend on him and not on ourselves so much. If you’re experiencing any kind of trial right now, how is your response to it? Does Joel’s call to come before the Lord speak to you about your need to lean on the Lord more than ever at this time?

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.