Judges 5, Jeremiah 18

Read Judges 5 and Jeremiah 18.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible. In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” indicates that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” This explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure.

Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them?

Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of Judah’s rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understands, for the first time in his life, how God feels. He knew personally what it was like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and be personally rejected despite that gracious offer. He knew what it was like now to be righteous and have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness and he is so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross. What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness.

This is something to keep in mind when we struggle with temptation; if we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Joshua 23, Jeremiah 12

Read Joshua 23 and Jeremiah 12.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 12.

Yesterday, in Jeremiah 11:18-23, the prophet seemed grateful that God had revealed a plot against him. He asked for God’s justice to punish those who sought to kill him and God revealed to Jeremiah that He would punish them.

In the early verses of this chapter, however, Jeremiah started complaining about God’s justice. God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy punishment for those who were sinning in Israel. But there was no punishment; these people were thriving, as far as Jeremiah could tell (v. 2a-b). Jeremiah was eager to see God’s judgment fall and was annoyed with God for not delivering already on the promised punishment (v. 4a).

How did God answer this complaint? By telling Jeremiah that he was way out of his league: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” The rest of this chapter reaffirms God’s promise to bring judgment, first on Israel (vv. 6-13), then on the nations that defeat Israel (v. 14). The final verses allude to the salvation of Gentiles (vv. 15-16) but the chapter ends with another promise of judgment (v. 17).

So what exactly was God’s reply to Jeremiah’s complaint? It was to tell Jeremiah that His ways were too high for Jeremiah to understand. God will do what he promised. When will he do it? Why will he delay? The answers to these questions belong to the Lord. Jeremiah needed to stop complaining and just trust him.

We can relate to Jeremiah, right? If God is sovereign and holy and just, then why is there so much sin and evil in the world? These and other questions bother us and sometimes even challenge our faith God. If we knew what God knows and were as wise as he is, we would understand. Lacking his omniscience and wisdom, however, leaves us asking questions we can’t answer and even accusing the only just one in the universe of injustice.

This is how God always answers us when we challenge or question him. He doesn’t try to explain his ways; he reminds us that his ways are beyond our understanding. This is what he told Job and what he tells us. It is what he said to Paul when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The lesson for us is to commit to God the things we can’t understand and be faithful to do what he’s commanded.

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?

Joshua 4, Isaiah 64

Read Joshua 4, Isaiah 64.

This devotional is about Isaiah 64.

Isaiah longed in this chapter for a personal visit from God (v. 1). However, he wanted something different from the vision of God he saw in Isaiah 6. Instead of seeing a vision of the Lord that was high and exalted as in chapter 6, he wanted God to descend to the earth personally to bring judgment on his enemies, the enemies of Israel (v. 2c-d) so that the would see that Israel’s God was the true God (v. 4).

Isaiah realized, however, that God helps “those who gladly do right” (v. 5) but that he and his people were not in that category (v. 5b). Instead, he acknowledged that, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (v. 6). As a result, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (v. 7).

So many people in the world talk about God, say that they are spiritual or into spirituality but Isaiah said, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you.” As sinners, we want a god in our image not the Lord God who is holy and who punishes sin. To know God as he really is, you and I and anyone else must realize who we are before God: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (v. 8). This is an expression of repentance and an acknowledgment that no one can know God apart from his grace to save us from sin.

This is how a person becomes a Christian (to use modern terminology). When we have been turned to God in repentance by his grace, we long to see God for who he is, not for who we’d like him to be. We want to see him descend into this world and bring judgment on it (vv. 1-4) so that his kingdom will begin.

Remember this is what is at stake when you talk about Christ to others. The world needs to know that God is real and that he judges sin and sinners. Everyone in it needs to come face to face with the reality that we are wicked in God’s sight and even our best actions are useless in his sight: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (v. 6b). No one can come to know God until they know and acknowledge this; but when someone does acknowledge it, he or she will find that God is no longer an angry judge but, instead, a loving Savior.

Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60

Read Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60.

This devotional is about Isaiah 60:21-22.

Why is it that only a few people will be saved compared to the billions of people who have or will ever live? One answer is given here in Isaiah 60:21-22. This chapter continued to hold forth for Israel the promise of God’s kingdom in the future under Messiah. Verse 21a promised in that kingdom that “all your people will be righteous,” indicating that only those redeemed and regenerated by the Lord will be there. Two phrases later in verse 21c Isaiah wrote, “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands….” Picture this image: God’s kingdom is not like a great oak tree transplanted from somewhere else into the land of Israel. Instead, it is a weak little “shoot,” the tiny sprout of a plant that God himself planted but which grew into something great any mighty and, for the first time in human history, holy like God is. So God’s plan was to make something mighty out of something weak and insignificant. Verse 22a-b tells us that his kingdom will become mighty when it says, “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.”

But, again, why? Why choose insignificance and only save a few? Verse 21e says, “for the display of my splendor….” It glorifies God to take the weak, the humble, the insignificant and weak and make something great out of it. This is what God will do for Israel when his kingdom is established (again verse 22); and everyone who sees it happen will be amazed at the awesome power of God.

Although this chapter describes what God will do for and with Israel, it echoes a constant theme in Scripture: that God chooses the weak and lowly and insignificant and chooses that to bring glory to himself. This is one reason why only a few are saved. If most people were saved, it would be a common, unextraordiany thing. When God chooses and uses insignificant things and turns it into something great, everyone knows that God is great.

It is troubling at times to be in the kind of minority we find ourselves in as believers in this world. If only more people were believers, we wouldn’t feel so awkward and out of step with the rest of our society. Someday only the righteous will inhabit the world and we’ll fit in just fine then because we too have been justified and sanctified by the grace of God. Until then, we wait for him to glorify himself though us when his kingdom comes.

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law.

False conclusion number 2 would be true but it is impossible because of conclusion number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people–no matter how minor they seem to us–would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word.

Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people–Old or New Testament–have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

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.

Numbers 19, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Psalm 124

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Psalm 124.

This devotional is about Numbers 19.

Some of God’s commands in the OT law are easy to understand. “Do make any graven images, do not kill, and do not covet” are a few examples.

Some others make sense if you understand their purpose. The sin offering, for example, taught people that (1) every sin was worthy of death (as Romans 6:23a says) (2) they could be forgiven if a substitute died for them. When Jesus died on the cross, he came as the true, final sin offering so we now understand the symbolism of the animal sacrifice known as the sin offering.

Other commands of God are harder to grasp and Numbers 19 is one of those. Verses 1-6 describe the recipe for making the “water of cleansing” from the ashes of a red heifer. Verses 7-22 describe the regulations and uses of this water of cleansing. But what good did it do anyone to be sprinkled with this water?

The “water of cleansing” did nothing. It didn’t make anyone physically clean, it didn’t remove sins, nor did it have magic spiritual powers that removed demons or something else bad from someone’s life. It was truly and only a ritual, a ceremony with no tangible benefit. So why did God command it?

Verse 9 said this water was “for purification from sin” but the only instances where God commanded it to be used were when someone touched a dead body (vv. 11-13, 16-21). So “purification from sin” must mean from the purification from the consequence of sin, namely, death. Death was not God’s original plan for humanity; it was his curse on us for our sins. Since God is life and death is a curse, God gave them this ritual to set them apart from the consequences of sin. If someone were to touch a dead body without this ritual, they would “defile the Lord’s tabernacle” (v. 13b, see also verse 20c).

The point of the red heifer purification water, then, was to teach Israel about the holiness of God. God was not to be approached and worshipped by someone who had been in contact with death. Instead, they were considered defiled and unacceptable to approach the Lord until they went through this ritual. The ritual was a teaching tool to show God’s people, and us, that God is completely separate from sin and death and one must not approach him to worship without being set apart.

In Jesus we have been set apart. There is no need for this kind of ceremony any longer because God has credited to us the perfections of Christ. When we come to God in worship–prayer, singing, whatever–we know that we will be accepted because Christ’s death has been applied to us and we are declared clean, worthy, set apart, washed, sanctified, holy, and perfect in him.

Have you ever considered how a passage like this one shows how utterly holy God is? As you think about this offering, do you get a greater appreciation for all that God has given to us in Christ? He not only cleansed our sins; he has removed every unacceptable trace of sin, death and defilement from us, not because of anything we did but because Jesus did it all for us. That is something to praise the Lord about!

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.”

Leviticus 2-3, Proverbs 18, Psalm 90

Today’s readings are Leviticus 2-3, Proverbs 18, Psalm 90.

Today’s devotional is about Leviticus 2.

This chapter describes how grain offerings were to be prepared and offered. However, there is no explanation in scripture about what grain offerings were for, other than to feed the priests (see p. 10a). At the very least, this kind of offering gave God’s people a way to worship and give thanks to him for providing for them. It also gave the people a way to bless the priests as they came to worship of God.

Two regulations stood out about this offering. First, it had to be made “without yeast” (v. 11). Yeast usually (but not always) symbolized sin in Scripture. By insisting that the offering be prepared with out yeast, everyone from priest to every person, would remember that God is holy and completely without sin. This required the sinner to prepare himself to worship and to approach God with appropriate fear and reverence.

The second regulation that stood out in this chapter is the requirement to add salt. Verse 13 says it as clearly as it could be said: “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.” Not much is known about this requirement, other than that there is salt everywhere where Israel was going, so it might be an expression of giving thanks for God’s faithfulness.

Regardless of when or why someone might offer this sacrifice, the requirement not to add yeast was a subtle reminder of God’s holiness. Each time they prepared for this sacrifice, the lack of yeast emphasized how completely separate God is from all evil. This was designed to show the worshipper how imperfect we are so that we would cry out to God for his help.

Have you thought recently about how holy God is and how repulsive sin is to him? Does your life reflect that as you become more like him? Or are you letting “just a little” yeast into your life? Let this passage cause you to reflect on where sin might be leaking (even just a little) into your life. Let it cause you to cry out to God for help removing the sinful yeast from your life.