Judges 1, Jeremiah 14

Read Judges 1 and Jeremiah 14.

This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land of promise, but not completely. Their territory was larger sometimes and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied everything God promised them.

Why not? Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) and Israel was still procrastinating when it comes to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later. Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point but when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage. God makes promises. God’s people believe and act on those promises and succeed until the challenge looks hard. Then they quit and settle for less than what God promised.

Do we ever do that? Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has. How much effort do we put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has. How much effort do we put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for us?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament (of all places) encourage generous giving to see God provide: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Joshua 5:1-6:5, Isaiah 65

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5 and Isaiah 65.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:13-14.

Israel had just entered the Promised Land. It is time for the current generation to take the covenant sign of Abraham (vv. 2-9). This “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9a) separating them forever from the uncircumcised Egyptians as a people belonging to God. They also celebrated the Passover (vv. 10-11) which also identified them with God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Then, in verse 13, we are told that “Joshua was near Jericho.” What was he doing there? A little scouting, perhaps? We don’t know but we do know that he had battle on this mind. God had already revealed that this would be the first city attacked in the Promised Land; now God revealed to Joshua the method Israel would use to win (vv. 2-5). Before he knew he was talking to the Lord, Joshua asked the soldier in front of him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (v. 13) The Lord’s answer is quite curious: “Neither” (v. 14 a).

Note something important here: the “commander of the army of the LORD” was Christ himself. Theologians call this a “theophany” or a “Christophany”–an appearance of Christ before he was born into the world as the man named Jesus.

We know that this “commander of the army” is God because “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (v. 14), something mere angels never allowed. We also know this is God because verse 15 says, “The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” Again, mere angels–powerful and wonderful though they are–do not deserve worship and veneration; only God himself does.

And, we know this is Christ, not the Father or the Holy Spirit because Christ is “the Word”–the person of God who communicates to humanity. We also know that it is Christ because he is “the commander of the army of the LORD” which the book of Revelation reveals to be Jesus (see Revelation 19:11-16).

Why would the Lord say that he was on “neither” side in verse 14? These were God’s chosen people, after all. They were the recipients of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God’s Law, and the promises of God’s blessing. This was their land which God had promised them! How could the LORD then say that he was not on their side?

The answer is that God is on his own side and Israel benefited from being on his side by grace. Their success in taking the land was dependent on them living obediently to God’s commands, starting with the command to attack Jericho as Christ directed them to in chapter 6:2-5. God would not fight for them if they tried to attack using conventional means; only the crazy form of “attack” described in 6:1-5 would do because only that method would show the supernatural power of God.

“Is God on our side?” is really the wrong question. The question is, “Are we on God’s side?” Our success at anything in this life can come only by the grace of God, his unearned favor. Also “success” only matters as God defines it, not anyone else.

Think about this the next time you sing or hear, “God bless America.” Of course we want God to bless America but is America blessing God? That’s using the word “blessing” in two different ways, I grant you. The first, “God bless America” is a petition for God’s favor on America (“God shed his grace on thee” and all that). My formulation, “Is America blessing God” is using the word “blessing” in the sense of “thanking and praising God through faith and obedience.”

Are you on the Lord’s side?

Joshua 3, Isaiah 63

Read Joshua 3 and Isaiah 63.

This devotional is about Joshua 3.

In this short chapter, Israel began crossing over the Jordan River into the promised land. Similar to the way in which he parted the Red Sea for the parents of these Israelites, God miraculously stopped the flow of the Jordan River (v. 16) so that this generation was able to cross into the promised land “on dry ground” (v. 17).

There were two purposes for this miracle. First, this miracle demonstrated to God’s people that Joshua was His appointed leader. Verse 7 says, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.’” This miracle gave Joshua the authority to lead.

The second purpose for this Jordan-stopping miracle was to show Israel that God was with them and would drive out the Canaanites. Verse 10 says, “Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.’”

One act of God, then, taught his people two important lessons–that God was with them and that they should follow Joshua. God used a miracle in this case; however, he often accomplishes these kinds of purposes by acting in even non-miraculous ways.

Have you seen the Lord working in your life? Has it happened recently? Did it give you a sense of confidence to remind you that you are in Christ and that God is providing for and caring fo you?

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.

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalm 27

Today read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalm 27.

This devotional is based on Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel. Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down? We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.