Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?

Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, Acts 12

Read Numbers 2, Isaiah 27, and Acts 12.

This devotional is about Acts 12.

In this chapter, Herod wanted the accolades of the Jewish people under his rule (v. 3), so he killed James and intended to kill Peter (vv. 1-5).

God answered the prayers of the church and rescued Peter miraculously (vv. 6-18). Then the people of Tyre and Sidon appealed to Herod’s pride by praising him as a god after they settled a dispute with him (vv. 19b-22). God took Herod’s life for accepting this blasphemous praise (v. 23) but God’s word kept on growing and reaching more and more people (v. 24).

This incident was a taste of the kingdom clash that Jesus began and will complete when he returns. This world wants to suppress God’s word and silence God’s messengers so that it can take the praise and adoration that belongs to God alone. Although God rarely brings the kind of immediate judgment on the foolish, proud kings of this world, he will eventually defeat them and rule all creation. Then he alone will finally receive the worship that he alone deserves.

Until his kingdom comes in its fullness, the gospel of it continues to spread and grow, making more and more citizens who will worship him now and rejoice with him when his kingdom finally does come.

Very few rulers today would demand or even accept overt worship as God but there are plenty of people who still enjoy the ego boost that comes from the praise of people. The power they have, however, is not due to them because they deserve it; it is entrusted to them temporarily as managers of God’s authority as king.

We should never give much credit, praise, or admiration to men or women who are politically powerful. Our Lord and king is Jesus; only he will rule perfectly.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Hebrews 11

Read Exodus 5, Job 22, and Hebrews 11 today.

This devotional is about Job 22.

Eliphaz, the speaker in this chapter of scripture (v. 1), was the first of Job’s friends to speak back in chapter 4. His word to Job back in that chapter was that Job used to be a good man, but now he was under discipline by God. So, Eliphaz continued, Job should repent and get right with God.

Eliphaz also spoke in Job 15. There he rebuked Job for defending himself and, again, argued that it is the wicked who suffer, not the godly.

Here in Job 22, Eliphaz took his third crack at Job. He begins by asking, rhetorically, if any of us human beings have anything to offer to God (vv. 2-3). Eliphaz said that because Job continued to insist that his suffering was not the result of any wickedness and was, therefore, unjust.

Then, in verses 4-10, Eliphaz made direct, specific charges of sin against Job. He accused Job of oppressing people (v. 6), of refusing to help people in need (vv. 7-9). These sins, Eliphaz confidently asserted, caused Job’s suffering. His charges this time around against Job were more specific and caustic than before.

In verses 12-17, Eliphaz accused Job of believing that God was so far away that he can’t know or see what we do. This, according to Eliphaz, was why Job was so willing to mistreat people (v. 17b), because Job did not recognize all the good things God does for us (v. 18).

In verses 21-30, Eliphaz turned to the conclusion of his argument. His conclusion was that Job needed to “submit to God” (v. 21) and “return to the Almighty” (v. 23). Again, this is another call to repent. The benefits of repenting would be:

  • prosperity (v. 21).
  • restoration (v. 23)
  • the ability to treasure God and his relationship with God (vv. 25-26).
  • answered prayer (v. 27)
  • and success in every way (vv. 28-30).

Eliphaz’s message is very similar to the “gospel” delivered by prosperity preachers today. The assumption is that God can be controlled and manipulated into giving us whatever we want through our prayers and our obedience.

Not only are these ideas untrue, they are completely inadequate to generate and sustain true faith in the true God. As soon as God allows something into your life that is painful, this kind of prosperity theology will fail.

You may not believe in the prosperity gospel per se, but do you believe that faith in God entitles you to get your prayers answers, your bills paid, obedient children and a long life? While we may not expect to become rich, as the prosperity gospel preaches, if we serve God in order to get something from him, we have not understood that God is sovereign and that his will is not bound by or manipulated by anything we do or say.

In verses 25-26, Eliphaz said, “…the Almighty will be your gold, the choicest silver for you. 26 Surely then you will find delight in the Almighty and will lift up your face to God.” This is the closest thing Eliphaz said to describing a true relationship with God. God saved you so that you will treasure him and delight in him. These are not incentives for us to seek by turning from sin; instead, they are the result of God’s saving grace to us. They are the things that should compel us to turn from sin. And, they are one reason why God allows trials into our lives. God strips away, sometimes, the good things about our lives in order to reveal whether or not we really love God for who God himself is or if we love him because we think it is a pathway to a better, more prosperous life.

Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1

Read Genesis 41, Job 7, Hebrews 1.

This devotional is about Hebrews 1.

God created us with a desire to worship him. When we rebelled against him, that desire to worship him remained but has now been bent by the sinful nature within each of us. A worshipper who is morally bent will look for something else to worship besides God and that means worshipping what God created instead of the Creator himself. This “worship” does not always take the form of bowing down in prayer and praise to something other than God. It can take the form of fascination with something or someone other than God.

The book of Hebrews was written to teach Jewish people that Jesus is better than whatever else fascinates them. Christ as God’s messenger is the focus (vv. 1-2) and the author of Hebrews argued that Christ was superior to other messengers from God, namely angels.

The author of Hebrews does not disrespect angels or deny their importance (or existence!). Instead, the author described the greatness of Christ (vv. 2b-3) and then set out to demonstrate the many ways in which Christ is superior to angels (vv. 4-14). First, Jesus’s name is superior to their name (vv. 4-5). Second, the exaltation he receives as God (vv. 6-13) shows him to be greater than the role of servant that angels have for believers (v. 14). Angels are important agents in God’s creation, but they are merely created beings not the Creator himself. But Jesus is the Creator and Lord.

I don’t recall ever meeting someone who worshipped angels, but there are people who have more of an interest in the supernatural and the afterlife than they do in God. They are fascinated by stories from people who have near death experiences. Or, they want to examine world events and world leaders t figure out who the Beast in Revelation is. Or, they wish to decode some hidden message they believe is in the Bible. Some people are fascinated by believers from the past or images of the virgin Mary on a tortilla or some other aspect of theology or spirituality or paranormal activity. All of these are ways in which people miss the greatness of Jesus because of their fascination. While they may not intend to steal glory from Christ, they dishonor him by focusing on something besides him that is subservient to him.

Has that happened for you? Is there any aspect of spiritual life that fascinates you more than the Lord Jesus? If so, allow this passage refocus your mind on the glories of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 24

Read 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 24.

Ezekiel truly lived his prophesies. Many of his actions were object lessons to Israel. Ezekiel 24 records the most difficult object lesson of Ezekiel’s life. The chapter begins with the Lord commanding Ezekiel to record the date because the siege of Jerusalem began on that day (vv. 1-2). Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat and exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah happened in stages; Ezekiel was taken as one of the exiles in an early stage of Nebuchadnezzar’s attack. Now that he has Jerusalem under siege, the final stage of the Babylonian conquest of Judah has begun.

The toll that being God’s prophet took on Ezekiel’s life is explained in verses 15-27. Because God’s people had idolized the temple, God wanted to show them what losing to Nebuchadnezzar would be like. So the Lord told Ezekiel that his wife was about to die (v. 16) and that he was not to do the customary acts of mourning for her (vv. 16-17). Instead, he was supposed to go about his life looking as he always did, though the Lord did concede in the phrase “groan quietly” that it would be painful and difficult for him (v. 17). Ezekiel gave the prophecy one morning and by that evening his wife died, just as the Lord had said (v. 18). When Ezekiel refused to mourn for her outwardly, everyone wanted to know what to make of his actions (v. 19). His answer was that they also would not mourn when the thing they loved the most—the temple—was destroyed (v. 21).

By why wouldn’t they mourn if they loved the temple so much? The answer is not stated in this chapter, but one commentator I consulted wrote that the people would not mourn because they should have expected that it was coming. Jeremiah in Jerusalem was prophesying that Jerusalem would fall and the temple would be destroyed. Ezekiel was prophesying the same thing in Babylon, so when it happened it should not have been surprising. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar was laying siege to Jerusalem. That meant his army was camped around the city preventing anyone or anything from coming or going. This would kill commerce in the city and, being a city, would prevent adequate food from coming in. The people of Jerusalem, then, would slowly starve until many of them died and those who lived were too weak to mount a threat to Nebuchadnezzar’s army. It took a long time for a siege to work and the people would have known that day after day they were getting weaker and more vulnerable. At some point, they would know that defending the city would be impossible so losing their freedom, their city, and their temple would be inevitable. Though they inwardly mourned the loss of these things, there was no sense in grieving because they knew it was coming for a long time.

What a hard price Ezekiel had to pay to be the Lord’s servant! But his loss illustrates something important that every person—even us believers—needs to understand. We cling to idols too much and to the Lord too little. Our idols maybe our relationships that we trust more than we trust God; they might be the job or the income that job provides that gives us a comfortable life. Our idols might be softer, too, or more spiritual. They might be a pastor or Christian author that we admire. May it is our reputation of godliness or service to the Lord. Whatever it is that we love and desire, if it replaces the Lord at the top of our affections, do not be surprised if the Lord topples it. It will be painful and it may seem like God is harsh and unloving. But the truth is that no idol is what God is, and no idol can do for you what God can do. To to cling to anything instead of the Lord will cause problems in your life. God may allow unbelievers to have their idols in this life and deal with them in the next; for his children, though, God loves us too much to let us worship something that is not him.

If you’ve faced a loss in your life that has you questioning God, you should consider whether that thing you have lost meant too much to you. It is never pleasant to lose what you love, but if what you love is keeping you from God, it is necessary for the Lord to prune it from our lives. May God give us grace to look to him in those hard moments of pruning.

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 7:19c-h: “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. It will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs, for it has caused them to stumble into sin.”

Lack of money can create problems such starvation, inability to get healthcare, or homelessness. Almost as bad, the fear of those things happening if you run out of money can make life miserable before the problems even arrive.
On the other side of the …um… coin, there is a certain amount of security that comes from having money. If your car breaks down, it is annoying to have to lay out the money to get it fixed but at least you have the ability to get it fixed. If your car breaks down and you don’t have enough money to get it fixed, then you might have a hard time getting to work, which can cause you to lose your job, which could lead to being evicted from your home.

So, yes, it is better to have money in most situations in life. The Bible acknowledges this fact. Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter….” It can shelter you from many problems in life.

But it can’t protect you from every problem in life. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He was a billionaire many times over already and spent a lot of money treating his cancer but he could not buy a cure for himself. His money could not buy him health or even one more day on earth.

Another thing that money can’t buy you is peace with God. The currency and capital that we crave so much is worthless in the eyes of God. As creator, he owns everything but as a self-sustaining, uncaused spirit, he needs nothing. Those who are wealthy may feel as sense of security in this life but–like all of us–they too should fear the wrath of God. This piece of Ezekiel 7:19 warned the wealthy, “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In Ezekiel’s prophecy that statement was a warning. When the Babylonians invaded Judah, the rich would not be able to buy off the soldiers. Those soldiers would kill them, then take their wealth as loot (v. 21).

But this verse in Ezekiel 7:19 not only warns that the wealth of the rich won’t save them from God’s wrath, it also says that their wealth is part of the reason for God’s wrath. The last phrase says, “for it has caused them to stumble into sin.” That sin is detailed in verse 20: “They took pride in their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols.” Wealth was a status symbol that caused the wealthy to be proud–something God hates. It also became an idol–literally–when they used it to make fake gods.

What is your relationship to money like? Does it give you a false sense of security? Do you view it as evidence that God is pleased with you even as there are sins and problems in your life that you are ignoring? Do you worship wealth–not literally as an idol–but through materialism? Is it hard for you to give generously to God’s work and to be kind to those who are poor?

Money can’t buy you anything with God but the way you think about money and use it reveals something about your relationship with God. If you’re in Christ, he’s absorbed the wrath of God for you; have you submitted the money and material things you have fully to his Lordship?

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 3

Read Joshua 9 and Jeremiah 3.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 3:11: “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In this chapter God compared his people to a wife and their idolatry to adultery. The wife imagery was a better analogy when Israel was one nation because, of course, God made his covenant with one nation not with two. After Solomon, however, the nation of Israel became two nations governed by different kings. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Israel had 19 kings after Solomon and Judah had 20 kings. None of Israel’s 19 kings walked in the ways of God but eight of Judah’s 20 kings did to some degree or other.

Because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the most wicked, they came under the covenant curse first. The Assyrians invaded their land and carried them off into exile. Here in Jeremiah 3:8 God compared the Northern Kingdom’s exile to divorce; verse 8 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

The Southern Kingdom had some good kings, as I mentioned, so they remained a free nation for longer than the Northern Kingdom did. Given the 8 good kings Judah had, it is surprising to read in verse 11 that, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” In what way was Israel “more righteous” than Judah?

That question was answered in verses 8b-10 which say, “‘Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord.” In other words, Judah saw God keep his promise and punish Israel but they did not genuinely repent and turn to the Lord. Instead, they made religious gestures rather than sincere worship. Israel was “more righteous” then because Judah had more truth, more information, yet they still rejected God. Their idolatry was more deliberate; they chose to follow the same path as their “sister” Israel despite the negative consequences it brought to the Northern Kingdom.

There are three ways to learn moral and spiritual truths: (1) Believe God’s revelation. (2) Reject God’s revelation and figure it out for yourself by receiving all the consequences God’s word promised for those who reject his word. Or, (3) notice the experience of others–either the blessings they receive by faith or the curses they receive for disobedience, and choose accordingly. Judah had the Temple and the priests and scribes and God sent them prophets, too, so option (1) was there for them. They saw the devastation that Israel’s disobedience brought so they could have learned using option (3). Nevertheless, they chose option (2) and paid the price for it. A wise person–in the Proverbs sense–will receive God’s instruction (option 1) and will also notice how his word is fulfilled (option 3). We are fools when we go our own way, proving God’s word when we receive the pain and misery that sin brings. And, as verse 11 suggests (and Jesus also taught) we are worse (and receive greater condemnation) when we have God’s word and reject it than those who sin but have little to none of God’s truth.

Is it possible that right now you are considering a sin, playing with a sin that you’ve seen others commit? Will you learn from their experience to trust God and follow his ways, even when the attraction of sin is strong?

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.