Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, Acts 18

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, and Acts 18.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

Long before Cyrus became the king of Persia, Isaiah wrote about him by name (vv. 1, 3d, 4c). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God called Cyrus “his anointed,” meaning that he was a man chosen to do the Lord’s will. In this case, the Lord’s will was to return Israel to the promised land (v. 4a-b, 13c-d). Remarkably, God used Cyrus to do this “though you do not acknowledge me” (v. 4e, 5d). But, as a result of what Cyrus would do, “…people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Cyrus was an unwitting and unbelieving servant of the Lord and God would be glorified through Cyrus’s actions.

In verses 9ff, the Lord anticipated an objection to this plan to use Cyrus. The unstated objection was, “How can God use a heathen king who does not serve the Lord to do his will? Why would God do that?” The answer was stated in verses 9-11 and could be summarized as, “None of your business.” Because God is the creator (v. 12), he has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation. If we dislike what God does, we have no right to judge him or question him. He is the potter, we are the clay (v. 9), he is the parent, we are the child (v. 10). We have no more right to question what God does, how he does it, or why he does it than a coffee cup has the right to question its maker or a child has to question his or her parents.

This is difficult for us to accept! Our perverse sin nature wants to put God on the same level as we are. We want a God we can understand, one we can control by telling him that his actions are unjust. We want God to be subject to a standard just as we are so that we can accuse him of failing to meet the objective standard.

But God cannot be measured by an objective standard; he IS the standard. Because he is God, he has the right to do whatever he wants because whatever he wants and whatever he does will be perfectly consistent with his holy nature and character.

So, whatever you’re struggling with, whatever has you questioning God, remember that God is great, good, just, and righteous. Then, trust in him to do what is right and best, even if it makes no sense to you.

Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, Acts 15

Read Numbers 16, Isaiah 40, and Acts 15.

This devotional is about Isaiah 40.

The last verse in today’s reading from Isaiah, 40:31, is one of the best-known passages in the book of Isaiah for many people. It is a verse that gives encouragement to hope in the Lord when we are weak. Not surprisingly, then, many believers find it uplifting to read and recite when they are discouraged. That is an excellent use of the verse; even more so when you read the whole chapter.

  • The passage opens by offering comfort for God’s people who have suffered in judgment for their sins under foreign oppression (vv. 1-2).
  • Verses 3-11 tie that comfort to the coming of the Messiah:
    • Verses 3-4 were applied to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ
    • Verses 5-11 mostly describe the promises that Christ will fulfill when he establishes his earthly kingdom.
  • Verses 12-26 describe why the Lord will be able to bring such comfort to his people and fulfill these promises. He can do it because he is infinite. God eclipses everything we think is large on earth or the rest of the universe (v. 12).  God can also comfort his people because of his complete knowledge and wisdom (his omniscience, vv. 13-14). In the shadow of God’s infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite knowledge, other nations which seem so strong and imposing to us are insignificant (vv. 15-17).

What about other gods, though? Please; they are not worth mentioning in the same breath with the true God. Those idols were created by human beings who foolishly bow down and worship them (vv. 18-20).

But those who worship false gods should not act like they’ve never heard of the true God. God is everywhere—sitting “enthroned above the circle of the earth” (v. 22) and taking down powerful human rulers at will (v. 23).

There is no other god like the true God. Nothing escapes his notice (v. 27) or is beyond his capabilities (v. 28). Faith in him, then, calls us to look to him for strength.

Are you trying to handle everything in your life on your own? No matter how capable you are, you can’t carry the weight of the world.

But God can and he calls to you to come to him and look to him for strength to live each day out for his glory (v. 31).

Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, Psalms 54-56

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 37, and Psalms 54-56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 37.

Yesterday’s reading from Isaiah 36 described how the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and put the city of Jerusalem under siege. Having successfully stopped the flow of water into the city, the Assyrians invited the people of Jerusalem to surrender before they died of dehydration and starvation.

Here in Isaiah 37, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, showed great spiritual leadership. Instead of mustering his army and trying to fire them up with a rousing speech, Hezekiah recognized that God was the only possible route to deliverance.

Hezekiah began his demonstration of spiritual leadership by humbling himself, personally before the Lord by putting on the garments of humility and going to the Lord’s temple (v. 1). Then he sent some of his deputies, themselves clothed in humble sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2). Their message to Isaiah, in verse 3, was not “Get us out of this!” or even “Pray for us!” Instead, they acknowledged how desperate their situation and need for God was (v. 3) and pointed out to Isaiah that the Assyrians had spoken words of ridicule against the one true God, the God of Israel (v. 4a). As a result, they asked Isaiah to pray that God would preserve his people from this dangerous moment in their history (v. 5).

Isaiah responded by assuring Hezekiah’s officials that God would fight for Israel and repay the Assyrians for their blasphemy (vv. 5-7).

Meanwhile, Sennacherib sent a personal letter to Hezekiah once again denying that God would deliver them and calling on Hezekiah to surrender (vv. 9-13). Hezekiah took the letter he received and brought it before the Lord (v. 14). He prayed and began by praising God for who He is (v. 15-16) and calling on God to deliver his people (vv. 18-20).

At the end of Hezekiah’s prayer, he said the words that God always wants to hear: “…deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.” As he called on God to fight for his people, Hezekiah tied his request to the demonstration of God’s glory (v. 20).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer (vv. 21-38) and here we are thousands of years later reading about what God did and praising God in our hearts for his almighty power and defense of his people.

When we ask God for something in prayer, do we ever think about what God would get out of answering our prayers? The biggest human need we think we have is insignificant compared to the importance of magnifying the glory of God and calling people to surrender to him.

God is loving and compassionate toward his people but his main objective in this world is to spread the knowledge of himself throughout the world. Do we ask God to use our weaknesses, our needs, and the answers to prayer that we seek from him in ways that help spread the knowledge of God and bring worship to him? Or is our praying self-seeking, concerned mostly (or only) with getting what we want from God for our own relief or our own life-enhancement?

The kind of prayer God loves to answer is the one that recognizes God’s purposes in this world and aligns the answer we seek with the advancement of God’s agenda in some way.

If God were to give you today the answer you’ve been asking him for in prayer, how would that answer spread his knowledge in the world? Tying our requests to what God is concerned about—his kingdom—is important for an encouraging answer to our requests.

Think about what you find yourself asking from God in prayer. Is the answer you want really just a way to make yourself comfortable? Or do you see how answering your prayer might have an impact on the real reasons Christ came into the human race? Do you see how God is glorified when he answers in such “difficult” situations? When you pray, connect your prayers to the promises of God and his mission to reach his chosen ones and see if God does not answer more quickly, more completely and thoroughly in your life.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

2 Kings 21, Hosea 14

Read 2 Kings 20 and Hosea 14.

This devotional is about Hosea 14.

This chapter is yet another plea from one of God’s prophets to God’s people to repent of their sins (vv. 1-3) and serve God alone (v. 8a-b). Sandwiched between these two elements are the ardent promises of God to “love them freely” (v. 4) and cause the nation to blossom (v. 5b, 7c) and flourish (v. 7b).

With promises like these, repeated over and over and over by God’s prophets, why didn’t God’s people at least try it? Why–with few exceptions–did generation after generation follow idols and forsake the Lord?

The answers are in verse 9: “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” The sinfulness, the rebellion that comes naturally to our human hearts causes us to stumble over God’s commands. We are unable to “walk in them” until we are righteous and only God can declare and make someone righteous.

This is the BIG lesson of the Old Testament. God makes promises and teaches humanity his ways but humanity rebels against God and stumbles in his ways unless God breathes new life into our dead spirits. The Israelites should have read the words of these prophets and cried out to God for help to overcome the rebellion of unbelief. Instead, people rejected God’s word or tried to cobble together their own religion of Judaistic “good works” plus something else like Baal worship. Note that before God said the righteous would walk in his ways in verse 9 he first said in verse 4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely….”

If you find yourself trying to live the Christian life but failing, this is what you need. You need to cry out for the righteousness of God and the new life he gives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is what our kids need, our friends need, our neighbors need; it is what we all need. We don’t need to try harder to walk in God’s ways or reduce God’s ways to a list of requirements. We need God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ given to us by faith.

Then we will grow and flourish and blossom and show all the other signs of life and blessing that are described in this chapter. Then God will be glorified in us and we will bless us “like the dew” (v. 5).

2 Kings 19, Hosea 12

Read 2 Kings 19 and Hosea 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 19.

Yesterday we read that, after the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, the Assyrians made a play for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, too. At first Hezekiah tried to buy them off, but that was merely a temporary fix. The Assyrians returned and wanted total surrender, so they laid siege to Jerusalem, cutting off the food and water and urged the people to surrender.

Chapter 19, today’s reading, continued the story and told us that Hezekiah had a very simple response: he turned to God for help.

His first act was to show his complete humility and dependence on God (v. 1). Was it dignified for the king of Judah, one of David’s descendants, to tear his clothes and put on sackcloth? Of course not; Hezekiah was more concerned about the gravity of the situation than he was with maintaining his dignity.

Hezekiah’s second act of humility was to contact Isaiah and ask him to pray (vv. 2-4). Note that Hezekiah understood what was at stake. The Assyrians were not merely trying to defeat Judah in war; they were attacking Judah’s God as much as they were attacking Judah’s capital city (v. 4). Hezekiah suggested in his message to Isaiah that God might intervene because of the blasphemy spoken by Assyria’s commander. That’s key to understanding what happened later.

Isaiah responded to Hezekiah’s message with an encouraging word: Don’t be afraid of their blasphemy; this Assyrian king Sennacherib will abandon his siege when he gets concerning news from home (vv. 5-7). This prophecy through Isaiah began to be fulfilled immediately (v. 8), but Sennacherib did not leave the siege without petitioning Hezekiah—in writing—to surrender (vv. 9-13).

The demand to surrender led to Hezekiah’s third response to threat of the Assyrians: To pray directly to God for help (vv. 14-19). God responded through Isaiah with a direct answer to prayer (v. 20) and a prophecy of the downfall of Sennacherib (vv. 21-28). God’s words to Sennacherib were designed to assert His glory against the blasphemous boasts of the Assyrian king (vv. 21-26), then to make two direct promises.

The first direct promise was that Sennacherib would retreat because of what the Lord would do (vv. 27-28). The second direct promise was that Hezekiah and his kingdom would thrive again because of the Lord’s blessing (vv. 29-34). True to his word, the Lord defeated the Assyrians supernaturally (v. 35) causing Sennacherib to retreat as the Lord had prophesied (v. 36). Finally his own sons consipired against him and killed him (v. 37).

So Hezekiah was a simple guy; he had no grand scheme for defeating Assyria. He didn’t even try to muster an army to attack them. He simply humbled himself before the Lord, asked Isaiah to pray and prayed himself. Yet in his simple trust in the Lord there was great wisdom and great faith. Both his wisdom and his faith were tied to a deep belief that God was real, that what Hezekiah knew about God’s miraculous power was true, and that God was able if he chose to rescue Judah. Hezekiah’s prayer, though, was focused on God and his glory, not just begging God to fix the problem. His reason for asking for God’s help was simple: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

Do we care about that when we ask God to answer our prayers? Does it matter to us at all if God’s glory and fame are extended? Do we tie our requests to a desire to show more and more people that God is real? Or are we so myopically focused on our own problems that we never consider how God might be glorified by answering our request with a yes. If you look at the scripture’s teaching on prayer, you will see that what Hezekiah said in his prayer was exactly what God wants to hear. God wants our dependence on prayer to be about him and his glory. Whatever you’re praying for today, are you asking God to use his answer to you as a method to reach people for Jesus? That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer with yes.

1 Kings 18, Ezekiel 48

Read 1 Kings 18 and Ezekiel 48.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 48:35b: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

This final chapter in the prophecy of Ezekiel described in detail the land God promised to a restored nation of Israel. The chapter reaffirms the land-based portion of the covenants God had made with his people. It states that the promise of land given to Abraham in Genesis 12:7b: “To your offspring I will give this land” will be fulfilled literally. The chapter promises again that the portions of land promised generally to the twelve tribes of Israel in Genesis 49 and more specifically in Joshua 13-19 would be given to those tribes.

There are good, godly men who believe that the promises God gave to Israel in his covenants have been fulfilled in us here in the church age. I do not agree with that interpretation and I don’t see how passages like this which are so specific could be fulfilled generally or “spiritually” in the church. The only alternative, then, is to believe that these promises have yet to be fulfilled and that they will be fulfilled in the time period we call the Millennium.

This is not the place to go into specifics about the Millennium or other prophecies in the Bible about the end times. The final verse of Ezekiel, however, sums up the great hope that all believers in every age have: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.” This is the realization of the promise lost in the Garden of Eden, that humanity will live under the loving rule of God, knowing him, worshipping, and fellowshipping with him constantly. When the Lord lives on earth among us, when his name is the name of the city because he is there, when we are free of our sin and shame and can worship him truthfully, fully, constantly and live completely for his purpose–then life will be everything it could be and should be but cannot be in this unredeemed state.

Is this a focus in your life? As you live each day, do you think about what it means to live for the glory of God? Do you think about Christ’s return ever and ask for him to come? Is there anyone around you today that you could speak to about their need for Christ and what Christ has done for them? This is how God wants us to live once we come to know him by faith. We live faithfully for him, obeying his word and trusting him while also longing for and looking for his return.

2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 15

Read 2 Samuel 7 and Ezekiel 15.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 15.

This short chapter in Ezekiel is based on a simple observation: Vines are made of wood but they are not useful the way that wood from trees is useful. The wood that makes up a vine is too weak to be fashioned into a useful product. It can’t even be used to “…make pegs from it to hang things on” (v. 3b). It’s greatest utility comes from the fact that you can burn it, so it can fuel your fire (v. 4). Other than that, it is essentially worthless. You can’t make furniture or homes with it.

In verses 6-8 God compared his people in Jerusalem to those grapevines. Just as the vines are thrown onto the fire, so God will burn his people for their disobedience (vv. 7-8).

The keyword in this chapter is the word “useful.” Just as wood from the trees is very useful for many tasks, so God wanted his people to be useful for Him. Sometimes people object to the idea of being “useful for God” or “used by God.” Shouldn’t God love us for who we are not for what we do that’s useful? Don’t we have value as people that is genuine value apart from any usefulness or uselessness in our lives? As someone said on a podcast, “You’re a human being not a human doing.”

As creatures made in God’s image, we do have intrinsic value. But, because God created us for a purpose–to glorify him–we are incomplete and unhappy when we are not being used. If your refrigerator had feelings, don’t you think it would be happier being useful than sitting in the garage, unplugged, gathering dust and useless? The most fulfilling thing in life is to be useful to the one who owns you.

If you’re dealing with unhappiness that doesn’t seem to have a cause, could it be that you are unhappy because your life is passing by but isn’t contributing much to your Creator? Assess your usefulness for God and how much you’re being used by God. If you conclude that you are not as useful as you could be, what can you do to become more useful for the Lord? And if you are potentially useful but not being used much, where could you apply your usefulness to be used by God more and more effectively?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22, which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years, but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about, but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive, but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Judges 7, Jeremiah 20

Today’s readings are Judges 7 and Jeremiah 20.

This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too. Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel. He had no military experience, and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny, but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work, but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way, either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Sunday School class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13

Read Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 13:1-11.

One summer a few years ago I was assembling something in our backyard for my kids. Somehow I left my tools out in the yard. They remained outside in the yard for the entire fall, winter, and spring. I found them late in the spring when I went to put something else together out there. Most of the tools I left are still usable; they’re rusty, but still usable and I think the rust can be cleaned off. But some of them are now useless.

In the opening verses of Jeremiah 13, the prophet is told by the Lord to go buy himself a snappy new belt and wear it around (v. 1). Wouldn’t it be cool if the Lord told you to go buy some new shoes or a new shirt or even a new belt?

Except that he only got to wear it for a little while. Then the Lord told him to go geocache it in a rock crevice. (“He hideth my belt in the crevice of the rock…..”)

Anyway, when he retrieved the belt “many days later” (v. 6) it was “ruined and completely useless” like some of my tools are. Goodbye snappy new belt; I hope the Lord let him replace it from his ministry funds….

Anyway, if you’ve ever lost something and then found it ruined, you can relate to what Jeremiah experienced in this passage. This is how God felt about his people. He proudly put them around his waist so to speak but they ruined their utility by “the stubbornness of their hearts” through idolatry. Now, they were useless for what God wanted them for, namely, “to be my people for my renown and praise and honor” (v. 11).

It’s OK to say someone is “useful” these days, but it is not acceptable to say that someone “used” someone else. Being “useful” is voluntary while being “used” usually indicates someone is being manipulated without realizing it or that they are appreciated not as a person but only for what they can do for someone else. In other words, being “useful” is a compliment while being “used” is degrading.

When God says that his people are useless, however, like a rotten belt, it is not degrading his people. It is not degrading for something to do what it was created to do. I am “using” this keyboard and computer to write this devotional. If the keyboard and computer had feelings, they would not feel degraded but grateful that they had been useful.

So it is with us. God created us to glorify himself. Israel–and all of us in the human race, actually–degraded ourselves by giving ourselves to sin instead of being useful to the purpose of glorifying God. When, by faith, we love and serve God we are useful to him. When his people “Give glory to the Lord your God” (v. 16) we are doing what he created us to do and that is the greatest form of satisfaction. God graciously brings “light” (v. 16e) and joy to us when we give him glory through obedience. When life is dissatisfying, it may be because we are serving idols rather than giving glory to God.

Is your life useful for God’s purpose? Are you living in a way that might be degrading your usefulness for the Lord?