Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses repeated the 10 commandments for a new generation in this chapter, he also recounted the story of how God gave those commands. Specifically, he described how the Lord spoke these commandments audibly out of a fire on Mount Horeb directly to the people (vv. 4, 22). The people were afraid–who wouldn’t be?–and asked Moses to listen to the Lord’s voice and repeat what God to him to them (vv. 23-27).

God was pleased with this plan (v. 28) and then said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always” (v. 29a). This has been God’s desire from day one (er…, day six of creation, actually) for humanity. He wants us to fear him and keep his commands. God wants your reverence and obedience for his own glory; he deserves it as the only eternal and sovereign creator. No one else is worthy of receiving reverence and obedience beside the Lord.

But notice the last phrase of verse 29, “…so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” There was great benefit for Israel if they would only fear God and keep his commands; God promised his blessings on the lives of his people if they feared and obeyed him. This is the grace of God. He is not a tyrant demanding obeisance for selfish, egoistic reasons. Although he deserves reverence and obedience, he also promised good lives to those who would believe him and walk in his ways.

Israel received specific promises of God’s blessing for their obedience but the blessings that come from fearing and obeying God were not only for Israel. As Creator, God planned and promised blessings to anyone who would live by faith and follow him. A life of love, joy, and peace is available to anyone who inclines a heart toward God, fearing and following him.

The problem is that we cannot obtain this blessing because we all fall short. Our minds and hearts are polluted and deluded by sin. We daily encounter a strong inclination to selfishly disobey God and go our own way. Shortly after the events described in this chapter, these people would make a graven image of a calf and bow down to worship it. The fear of God that pleased him so much in verses 23-28 was soon forgotten, replaced by an idol in disobedience to God’s word. These laws, then, were designed to show God’s people the right way but also to expose the impossibility of walking in that right way apart from the grace of God.

Jesus came to obey these commands perfectly on our behalf, to suffer the penalties of our disobedience to these commands on our behalf, but then to give us a new nature and the Holy Spirit. Born anew by the power of God’s spirit, we now have the desire (“hearts… inclined to fear” God (v. 29a)) and the power to fear God and keep his commands. As Christians, we can read a text like verse 29c, “…keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” and know that we can do this by the grace of God.

These verses can help remind us of God’s great promises and plans for us if we follow him by faith. If we can remember these verses when we are weak and tempted, they will help us to remember that God wants us to keep his commands for our good. Carry this verse with you, then, as you go into the world.

Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 32, Psalm 145

Read Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 32, and Psalm 145.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 4.

In this chapter Moses transitioned from surveying Israel’s recent history to expounding on God’s law. Verses 1-14 form the transitional paragraph. In verse 10, Moses called on the adults who were children at the time to “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” He reminded those who were there how terrifying it was to see the glory of God revealed on that mountain (vv. 11-13) and how God graciously stopped speaking directly to the people and, instead, mediated his word through Moses (v. 14).

In verse 15 Moses used the fact that God did not have a physical form to remind Israel of the fact that the Ten Commandments forbade them from making “for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape…” (v. 16). The rest of that paragraph (vv. 15-31) spelled out what would happen if Israel turned to idolatry. Israel’s history showed the complete fulfillment of what Moses described here.

Then, in verses 32-34, Moses called God’s people to contemplate world history. What God did for Israel, redeeming them as an intact nation from Egypt, was unprecedented. God did this, according to verse 35, to demonstrate the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). Everything God did for Israel was proof that he was the only true God; therefore, according to verse 39, Israel should “acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” With these words, Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments, which he will repeat in tomorrow’s reading in Deuteronomy 5.

Moses’s point is that God’s commands are not a burden to Israel; they are gifts from the only being in the universe who knows absolute truth. If Israel would only reverence the Lord for who he is and what he has done, then God’s people will see his commands as a blessing that leads to greater blessings.

You and I are not Jews. We live under a different covenant. God’s power was not demonstrated to us on a fire-filled mountain; it was demonstrated to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s commands to us have many similarities and many differences to Moses’s law and his commands to us come with the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, like Israel, we are called to believe God and follow him in faith and obedience to receive his blessings.

Does the Christian life seem like a burden to you or a gift? Are God’s commands a crushing load that you don’t want to carry or are they a path of liberation from bondage to sin and its consequences?

As believers in Jesus, we are called to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt 28:20). Since we believe in Jesus, we must also believe that obedience to his word will bring good, not harm, into our lives. So is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting the commands of God? Will you, by faith, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and follow him in obedience by faith?

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Read Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, Psalm 135

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, and Psalm 135.

This devotional is about Isaiah 22.

Isaiah 22 is a prophecy against Judah and, more specifically, Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Isaiah refered to this area as “the valley of vision” which is a tough expression to interpret. It is tough because (a) Jerusalem is on a hill surrounded by valleys rather than being a valley or in a valley and (b) the people have no vision in the sense of knowing God’s revelation. As I mentioned, it is a hard expression to interpret; one commentator I consulted thought it might be ironic. Jerusalem was on a hill and should have seen (“vision”) the invasion that was coming but metaphorically it was in a moral and spiritual valley. Since they were in a metaphorical valley, they were unable to see God’s judgment coming for themselves. Therefore, God sent Isaiah with a vision of coming judgment which is described in this chapter.

Anyway, verse 10 directly referenced Jerusalem so we know that is what Isaiah is talking about. And, verse 10 says that they “tore down houses to strengthen the wall” around Jerusalem. They also “built a reservoir between the two walls” according to verse 11a. These both refer to preparations that were made to harden Jerusalem against attack.

Because they were confident in the preparations they had made against being attacked, the people of Jerusalem were having a party. Verse 13 says, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink,’ you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’” Instead of repenting (“to weep and to wail,” v. 12) of their sin, they were taking joy and confidence in the human preparations they had made to withstand attacks from the Babylonians.

God’s message to them in verse 11 could be paraphrased as, “Yes, you made some smart moves to prepare for attack,” but, according to verse 11, “you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.” God’s people saw preparing for the attack as a tactical problem that could be solved with smart decisions instead of a spiritual problem that would only be solved with repentance and the grace of God.

We don’t face this kind of military attack as a judgment for our sins because we are not Israel. However, we do tend to look for human solutions rather than to God when we are faced with moral and spiritual problems. This text calls us, then, to look at the problems in our lives and then turn to God for help and favor in withstanding and overcoming those problems.

What problems are you facing in your life? Are you taking them to the Lord, asking for his help or are you looking for a better human solution? God brings problems to us that tear us down so that we will learn to put our faith solely in him.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

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 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122.

This devotional is about Numbers 16.

Back in Numbers 12, Moses faced opposition from his own brother and sister. They challenged his authority to lead because the Lord had spoken through them just as he had spoken through Moses (12:1-2).

Here in Numbers 16, Moses and Aaron were opposed by some of the Levites led by Korah (vv. 1, 3). Their objection was that, “The whole community is holy” (v. 3c). They went on to charge Moses and Aaron with elevating themselves above the people (v. 3f). So their argument was, “We’re all God’s chosen people and we’ve all been redeemed from Egypt by God’s power and have been promised a new land. Who are you, Moses and Aaron, that you’ve assumed authority over us?

Just as he did in Numbers 12, Moses did not defend himself; instead, he called on God to defend him by accepting an incense sacrifice either from Korah and his guys or from Aaron (vv. 16-18). God was willing to punish the entire nation for this rebellion (v. 21, and later, v. 45) but Moses and Aaron interceded with the Lord on behalf of the people (vv. 22, ). God’s punishment did fall on Korah and his rebellious followers (vv. 31-35) and on some of the people through a plague (v. 49) but he was merciful to the nation as a whole in answer to the prayers of Moses and Aaron.

This story brings up a few important points to consider:

  1. The Bible teaches that every believer is a priest (1 Pet 2:5) just as Korah suggested in verse 3. But the Bible also teaches that God has given leaders for the good and growth of his people (Eph 4:11-13). Leaders must lead in truth and humility but, if they are doing that, then God’s people must follow them.
  2. Moses had the right attitude toward opposition which was to let God deal with it. He was confident that God would vindicate him and God responded accordingly to his faith.
  3. Godly leaders will intercede for God’s people even when God’s people are difficult and disbedient to their leaders. Given all the problems they had faced, you would think that starting over would be an appealing idea to Moses, Aaron, and their families. But it was not because they loved God’s people and wanted them to obey and prosper by the Lord’s grace.

How is your level of humility when it comes to spiritual leaders? Are you someone who thinks leadership belongs to you or do you see leadership as an opportunity to glorify God and to reflect the glory of God to others? Moses had the humility to lead well. As a follower, do you have the humility to listen well to your leaders and follow them? If you are a leader, will you love and pray for the people you lead even if they are out to get you?

Numbers 14, Isaiah 3-4, Psalm 120

Read Numbers 14, Isaiah 3-4, Psalm 120.

This devotional is about Numbers 14.

Israel was in all-out rebellion against the Lord and against Moses. Although the land was theirs for the taking and they had seen how great it was, they refused to believe God’s word and, by faith, take the land. Here in chapter 14 the people are complaining loudly “against Moses and Aaron” (v. 2) and plotting to return to Egypt (v. 4).

God was angry with the people for their rebellion and threatened to destroy them all (vv. 11-12), but Moses stepped in and interceded for the people (vv. 13-19). And what was the basis of Moses’s intercession? It wasn’t a claim that Israel’s sin was “not that bad” or that he, Moses, was okay with what they said?

No, Moses knew his people were acting wickedly. Instead of making excuses for them, appealed to God’s character. Yes, Israel’s sin was bad so Moses appealed instead to the greatness of God’s mercy. He prayed back to God the revelation God had given to him when he said, “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’” (vv. 17-18).

God loves it when we remind him of his promises even to the point of praying back to him what he was revealed about himself. These kinds of prayers demonstrate that we have been paying attention and learning who God is. They also show us how utterly dependent on God we are. When we pray back to God descriptions of who he is, we are demonstrating our faith and knowledge of his Word. This glorifies God and gives him a basis for granting our requests. After all, what better basis could there be than the word of the Lord?

Do you pray scripture back to God? Do you quote or paraphrase passages you’ve read and learned about so that God can answer your request in a way that pleases Him? Start today. Think about a need in your life then think about how God might bring his grace into the situation. Then ask God to act based on the theology or scripture passage you’ve spoken to him in prayer. Watch God work as he defends his word and you, his children, from those who would seek to harm us.