Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Read Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us.

Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Read Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will–even when it is bitter–and follow him obediently.

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 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.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalm 62

Today we’re reading Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalm 62

This devotional is about Exodus 14:10-15.

Although they saw the miraculous power of God repeatedly in the ten plagues, God’s people became fearful in this chapter when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. Verse 10b says, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Their crying out, however, was not for his help or his power. That would have honored God. Their cries were cries of unbelief as you can see in their words to Moses in verses 11-12.

Moses’s answer in verses 13b-14 was magnificent. It radiated faith in God’s promises: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Despite this perfect response to Israel’s unbelief, Moses must have felt some fear, too. God rebuked him in verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” The Hebrew word translated “you crying out” is singular. In other words, God wasn’t saying, “Why are you Israelites crying out to me.” He was saying, “Knock off the praying, Moses, and get moving.”

Did you know that there are some things in your relationship with God that you shouldn’t pray about? Asking for God’s help, strength, favor or for his power to overcome your fear is always appropriate. It is never necessary, however, to pray and ask God whether or not you should do something he’s clearly commanded us to do. We never have to pray about whether we should share the gospel, for instance, or go to church, or tithe, or read his word. We never need to pray about whether or not to obey any of the Ten Commandments or any other moral command of God’s word. Asking God whether or not we should obey his commands is not spiritual; it is an act of unbelief. God requires us to obey his Word; there is no need for further discussion.

Again, we can ask God for his favor as we carry out his commands. We can ask for his help so that we have the courage to obey his commands. We can ask for him to comfort our fears as we carry out his commands. What we shouldn’t do is ask for an exemption from obeying his commands. That is the opposite of faith.

Is there any area of your walk with God where you’re procrastinating on obedience? Are you “putting out a fleece” (to borrow the words of Gideon) when you should just be doing what God said. Quit praying (about that thing) and just do what God’s word tells you to do. As Moses told the people in verse 13b, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you….”

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Today’s readings are Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.

Genesis 41, Job 7, and Psalm 39

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 41, Job 7, and Psalm 39.

This devotional is about Genesis 41.

To me, the amazing thing about Joseph’s story is not how quickly he rose after having so many down years and experiences. Throughout the painful parts of his story we were told that God was with him and was blessing him, so it isn’t surprising that things turned around for him quickly.

What’s amazing is how grateful and God-honoring Joseph was during his vindication, which we read about today here in Genesis 41. When he appeared before Pharaoh to hear his dream, he gave glory to God for the ability to interpret his dream: “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (v. 16). Later, when he named his sons, Joseph chose the name Manasseh and explained, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (v. 51b). When he named his son Ephraim, saying, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (v. 52b). These statements ring with gratitude to God; they completely lack any sense of indignation about what had happened. I don’t know what the Hebrew would be, but I’d be tempted to name my kids, “It’s about time something good happened to me for a change” and “Take that everyone who tried to hurt me!”

What made Joseph so grateful and so quick to honor and thank God? It was his faith in God. His faith in God is what carried him through all the problems he had faced in his life. So how could he be angry with God when it was his confidence in God that sustained him in the darkest days? Although it was his life, and the pain was real, it was ultimately God who was vindicated here in Genesis 41. The confusing, unhappy moments in Joseph’s life were necessary to get him to this place where God would use him.

Maybe this is a message you need today, that the confusing, unhappy experiences you’re going through right now are preparing you for what God has next for you. In that case, don’t give up on God or become bitter toward him. Things might get worse before they get better, but it is all part of making you into who God wants you to be so that he can use you and bless you according to his will.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Psalm 38

Today, read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Psalm 38.

This devotional is about Genesis 40.

If the story of Joseph’s life were plotted on a graph like the price of a stock on the New York Stock Exchange, what would it look like? Early on, the line would go up–he was favored by his father and had divine dreams that assured him of greatness. But, after his stock ascended for a while, it would have moved downward drastically after he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Then, there would be a small move up when Potiphar entrusted him with more responsibility, then another big move downward when he was falsely accused of assaulting Potiphar’s wife and put into prison.

At the end of Genesis 39, his stock moved up again a bit. Although he was in prison, the warden of the prison elevated Joseph into leadership and paid little attention to what he did “because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (39:23b). Still, he was in prison so the overall trend of his life was downward, despite this little spike upward.

Here in Genesis 40, Joseph saw an opportunity. Two of Pharoah’s officials were incarcerated and had dreams. Joseph interpreted their dreams and asked the cupbearer–the one who got good news–to “remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (v. 14b). After all the downward moves in his life, he finally had a reason to hope.

Alas, however, according to verse 23, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.” His hopeful opportunity never materialized and, if it were me, I would have despaired of ever getting out of prison.

Although Joseph had many discouraging moments in his life, he also had evidence of the Lord’s work in his life. God blessed his work and allowed him to rise even in the bad situations he found himself in. More obviously, the Lord gave him the interpretation of the dreams of these two men.

Fortunately, neither you nor I have been enslaved by others or imprisoned based on a false accusation. But it is easy to feel in the tough times of life that God has forgotten about us or doesn’t care about our circumstances. If that’s you, let Joseph’s story give you hope. God is watching and the story isn’t finished yet.