Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Read Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation–including the islands–and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Read Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

Moses’s history lesson ended here in Deuteronomy 10:11. The rest of the book will focus on teaching God’s laws again to this new generation and urging them to follow the Lord in faith and obedience.

To that end, Moses began with an exhortation to God’s people to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 12-13). Note that in verse 13 Moses said it was “for your own good” to fear, obey, and serve the Lord. Then in verses 14-22, he gave God’s people some reasons to follow God. These are all reasons based on God’s grace–grace that they had already received. Those reasons to follow the Lord are:

  • God’s electing love (vv. 14-19).
  • God’s miraculous power which he used on Israel’s behalf (vv. 20-21).
  • God’s preservation of Israel and how he prospered them with population growth despite being slaves in Egypt (v. 22).

As part of his discussion of God’s electing love in verses 14-19, Moses explained that despite God’s awesome greatness (v. 17), he is just and kind to those who are weak, specifically widows and foreigners (v. 18). Following God’s example, then, Israel was “to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Although few if any of us were literally foreigners like the Israelites were, it is also true that most of us were not very remarkable when God’s grace came to us in salvation. God was merciful and chose us even though we were ordinary or average at best. God’s compassionate nature toward the weak and exploitable as detailed in this passage should cause us to look out for and show compassion for the weak and exploitable people around us. We

have some ministries in our church, such as our benevolence offering which we receive on communion Sundays or our food pantry, where you can help people in need. But God wants us to develop an awareness of others around us who have these kinds of needs. Some needy people are obvious but many fit into the background of our lives, overshadowed by our own needs, problems, and concerns.

Let’s ask God to give us a greater perception of people who need help or someone to champion them in their plight. Then, as we see them, let’s do what we can to help. This is one way in which we emulate the grace and mercy of God our Father.

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 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 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120

Read Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:118, 120: “You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their delusions come to nothing…. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

The songwriter described so many benefits from knowing, loving, and obeying God’s word throughout this Psalm. In verse 105 of today’s reading he made the well-known statement, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” which describes God’s truth as bringing clarity about decisions in his life.

But what about those who don’t know and love God’s word? What do they have to guide them through life? Verse 118 answers that question by saying, “their delusions come to nothing.” What unbelievers have, then, are delusions rather than truth. They make decisions based on their own deluded ideas rather than on absolute, God-revealed truth. They may have strong convictions but their convictions are based on nothing other than their own preferences or ways of looking at the world. This shows itself in our society daily. The crazy things people claim to be true, like that there are 57 genders or whatever, are symptoms of a deluded society.

Delusions can be really interesting, even very appealing. The human mind is capable of incredible, wild fantasies and, because they are only thoughts, they are not constrained by things like logic, physics, morality, or human laws. When people start to live as if their delusions are true, they will stumble into many absurd, wicked ways. As the Psalmist wrote in the last phrase of verse 118: “their delusions come to nothing.”

The preceding part of verse 118 tells us what will happen to those who live by their own delusions instead of God’s truth: “You reject all who stray from your decrees.” People may enjoy acting as if their distorted reality is true but after they die, they will find a holy God who has rejected them for rejecting his word.

This brings me to verse 120. Obeying God’s word is hard, right? Without the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and illumination, it is impossible. Even with those gifts of the Spirit, we believers have to grapple with our sin nature within. So what enables a person to reverence, receive, and obey God’s word? Verse 120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you….” It is the fear of God that causes people to obey his word. This is the work of the Spirit causing us to turn from our delusions about God, about life, about sin and believe that God exists and that we are accountable to him but also that he loves us and wants to redeem us from our delusions.

Any appetite we have for God’s word or any success we have in obeying it is only by the grace of God given to us by his Spirit. This is why we have nothing to be proud about. But we must always remember to rely on the Spirit, asking God to keep us humble and dependent on his grace. Otherwise, we will be tempted again by the “delusions [which] come to nothing.”

Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, Psalm 115

Read Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, and Psalm 115.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 12.

Here in Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon begans to sum up his experience and bring the book to a close. Chapter 12 opened with a command to remember God, the creator, while you are young (v. 1a). Verses 2-8 explain why it is important to focus your life on God while you are young, but what he says in these verses has been understood in a couple of different ways:

  • One approach to 12:1a-8 is called the “allegory of old age.” This interpretation sees every image as describing a body that is breaking down as it gets older. For instance, when verse 2 says, “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark,” that s a description of an older person’s failing vision. And “the grinders cease because they are few” (v. 3c) is a poetic way of talking about the fact that a person’s teeth are falling out.
  • A second approach is to see this as describing the decline of life and the onset of death through the metaphor of a storm. In this interpretation, “the sun and the light” etc. growing dark is describing the approach of the storm. Likewise “the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” because people see the storm coming and are seeking shelter before it arrives.

Both of these interpretations have some weaknesses, but both of them seem to be describing the approach of death. The end of verse 5 demonstrates this when it says, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The point of the passage is that you should not wait to seek God when you are near death.

All the godless approaches to life that Solomon tried were frustratingly enigmatic, so none of them will give you the satisfaction you think they will. If you think you should live for pleasure while you’re young then turn to God when you get older, you’ll find that the pleasure you seek is unsatisfying anyway and death will descend on you so quickly that it is too late to prepare for.

This truth is one that we should reflect on and urge on those who are younger. There is a tendency to think that people will get serious about God as they get older, more mature, and wiser but the truth is that as you get older you tend to get more set in your ways. Instead of turning to God because you’ve found every other approach to life unsatisfying, older people who have lived apart from God just tend to become cynical and jaded, not worshipful and godly.

Solomon’s advice, then, is found in verse 13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” There are many frustrating, enigmatic problems that come with living in this life. We all wish we could solve the riddle of why things that should make us happy leave us feeling, at best, disappointed and, at worst, miserable. But it is foolish to waste our lives trying to disprove Solomon’s teaching. Instead, to make the best of the life God has given you, follow his ways in faith and let him be the judge of all things. Whether you are young or old, there is no sense in waiting until you get older to serve God. The fun you think you have pursuing your own life will not be satisfying and death will close in on you faster than you can possibly imagine. So, follow God’s ways and trust him to provide the joys and satisfactions that the righteous enjoy. This is the secret of life.

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Today we’re scheduled to read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or others. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Today we’re reading Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, and Psalm 108.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 5.

Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been reporting on his experiments in lavish living. He has taken the wealth God gave him and the wisdom God gave him and invested these things in searching what the best way to live might be. Everything he tried, however, turned out to be a frustrating enigma. It satisfied for a brief time, then offered ever-diminishing returns, then emptiness.

Many people who have achieved wealth and/or success in this life have proved this to be true. Some of the most miserable people you may ever meet are the people who got everything they wanted in life. That is, if everything they wanted was something in this life, for this life. Solomon’s oft-repeated phrase, “under the sun” (for example, v. 13) indicates the human-only realm. It is a phrase that indicates “apart from God.” Apart from God, wisdom is a frustrating enigma (1:12-18, 2:12-16) pleasure is a frustrating enigma (2:1-11), work is a frustrating enigma (2:17-3:22), life itself is a frustrating enigma (4:1-3), success is a frustrating enigma (4:4-8), career success is a frustrating enigma (4:13-,16), and wealth is a frustrating enigma (5:8-17).

So did Solomon find anything worth pursuing? Yes, but… two things must be said:

  • First, he found human relationships to be something worthwhile (vv. 9-12) but more as an advantage (“a good return” – v. 9, “one can help the other up” – v. 10, etc. Still, this was one positive thing he observed.
  • Second, he “saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22). But this truth is tied to another which is, “…to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil… is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (vv. 24b-26). Did you catch that? The simple things in life are satisfying only if you are a person who pleases God.

This chapter, Ecclesiastes 5, developed that thought even more. Life can be rich and fulfilling if you walk with God. So Solomon advised his readers to fear God in their worship (vv. 1-7) and be satisfied with whatever God gives them (vv. 18-20, esp. v. 19: “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”). Why would one person find pleasure and wealth to be a frustrating enigma while the guy in verses 18-20 can “eat… drink and find satisfaction”? Because the person in verses 18-20 walks with God. He may have “wealth and possessions” (v. 19b) but he sees them for what they are–a gift from God (v. 19a). Because his walk with God is most important, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

The book of Job taught us that suffering and trials are part of life, so don’t think that walking with God means that everything will always go smoothly and that your life will be a straight line upward. But when you survey a person’s entire life, Solomon’s conclusion was that a person who walks with God will find the simple things in life satisfying because he finds his joy in God.

How about it? Do you find life to be frustratingly enigmatic? If so, it might be that your walk with God includes a season of suffering for now but it might also be that you’re looking to life “under the sun” for satisfaction instead of looking for life “in the Son” by walking with him daily. If Solomon of all people couldn’t find satisfaction under the sun with all the resources he had at his disposal, we would do well to take his advice and focus on our walk with God. He is the source of true satisfaction.

Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke–either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is found in the life and consequences produced by those who live immorally. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins–either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience and acquires “Grade C” wisdom. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone–not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.”

Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke–from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences–and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

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.