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

Read 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 v. 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 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.

2 Kings 14, Micah 7, John 8

Read 2 Kings 14, Micah 7, and John 8.

This devotional is about Micah 7.

Unbelievers who read the Old Testament commonly complain that “the God of the Old Testament” is a God of anger, wrath, and vengeance. Of course he is, because he is a holy God and there is a mountain of wickedness in this world where we live.

But anger, wrath, and vengeance are not even close to being a full description of God–whether in the Old Testament or New. The false gods that nations outside of Israel worshipped were far more angry and vindictive than the Old Testament’s revelation of Israel’s God. Israel’s God promised peace, love, and prosperity for obedience but the idols of this world demand appeasement only. In other words, people worshipped these gods not out of love and thanks but in fear of the negative consequences they promised to bring. 

Even today where most “gods” have been replaced by abstract spiritual forces like the concept of karma, people act in fear (“karma is a [bleep]!”) not out of thanks and love. Although Micah, here in chapter 7, described God’s judgment falling on Israel, he re-affirmed the important promises of God’s love to his now-forsaken people: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago” (vv. 18-20).

It is so important to remember these truths, especially when we suffer under the consequences of our own sin or fall under the discipline of the Lord. His promise of love and forgiveness is waiting for us. Will we turn in faith to claim these promises or wallow in our own self-pity and doubt?

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 45, Mark 9

Read 2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 45, and Mark 9.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 6.

In 2 Samuel 5 David became king of all Israel (vv. 1-5) and established Jerusalem as his capital city (vv. 6-10). Having accomplished these things, he then desired to make Jerusalem the religious capital as well as being the political capital of Israel. That goal required him to move the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

Moving the Tabernacle was no big deal; it was a tent that was designed to be taken down and moved. The Ark of the Covenant was designed to be moved, too. It was built so that poles could be inserted into it. Those poles would allow it to be carried without any human hand touching it.

When the Philistines captured the ark in 1 Samuel, they returned it to Israel on a cart carried by oxen. Apparently this seemed like a good idea to David and the others because they followed the same strategy for moving the ark from Abinadab’s house to Jerusalem (v. 3). The poles that were designed to carry the ark must have still been around; the men probably used them to move the ark onto the cart. But it must have seemed easier to use oxen and the cart than to have two men carry the ark using the poles.

Although God’s people were technically disobedient by using the cart instead of the poles, God was merciful to them and allowed them to start the move using the carts. But when the oxen stumbled and the cart began to fall, Uzzah touched the ark in an attempt to keep it from being destroyed (v. 6).

Verse 3 tells us that Uzzah and the other guy escorting the cart, Ahio, were “sons of Abinadab.” Abinadab was the man who took the ark into his home to protect it when the Philistines returned it in 1 Samuel 7. So Ahio and Uzzah grew up with the ark in their home. They cared for it and watched over it as a family. It was a special responsibility that they took seriously. When David decided to move the ark, these two men wanted to personally escort it.

So when Uzzah touched the ark in verse 6, he was trying to do something good. He was trying to save the ark from accidental damage or destruction. He was trying to do what his family had done for 20 years, which was to watch over and protect the physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel. Yet verse 7 tells us that God was quick to punish Uzzah when he touched the ark, taking his life immediately for “his irreverent act” (v.  7).

Why would God do this, especially given that Uzzah was trying to save the ark, to protect it? He was not trying to defy the Lord or do something forbidden and get away with it. He was trying to help God out and watch over the ark for him.

My phrase there “help God out” describes why Uzzah died. God did not judge him or his brother (or David) for moving the ark improperly using a cart instead of the poles. God could have judged them for this, but he did not.

Yet their choice to put the ark on the cart in the first place exposed the ark to risk. God was merciful when the ark was moved improperly, but his mercy ran out when Uzzah disobeyed the Lord by touching the ark. His act was “irreverent’ (v. 7) not because he was leaning against it casually or sitting on it, or using it like a step-stool. His act of touching the ark was irreverent because the whole process was done carelessly, irreverently.

Instead of consulting God’s laws to see how the ark was to be moved, the people assumed that it would be OK to move it the same way the Philistines had moved it. When their method of moving it put the ark at risk, Uzzah did not trust the Lord to protect the ark himself; he instinctively felt it would be better to sin by touching the ark than to let the unthinkable happen and see the ark fall. But God wanted his people to learn to be careful in their worship through obedience.

David did learn the right lesson from Uzzah’s death, In verse 13 we see a reference to ‘those who were carrying the ark.” The word “carrying” indicates they were using the poles that God had commanded them to use.

This passage is difficult to apply directly to our lives because there is nothing like the ark of the covenant in our worship. That object was chosen by God to visually and physically portray his presence. There is no object similar to that in our New Testament worship.

But there are times in which we are irreverent toward God. When we do what seems right to us without consulting his word, we are acting a bit like Uzzah. Even if our motives are good and we desire to honor God, if we disobey God’s commands, God is not honored, he is disrespected.

Christians today do all kinds of things in God’s name. Approaches to evangelism try to downplay the Bible’s teaching on creation or miracles or historical events in the Bible. “Just focus on Jesus” the well-intentioned Christian or preacher says; don’t worry about the rest of the Bible. But this is dishonoring to the Lord.

It is dishonoring to the Lord because it relies on human ingenuity (like the cart or a steadying human hand) rather than seeking to understand and obey what God’s word said and trusting him.

Whenever we try to make it easier to become a Christian or to follow the Lord or to worship him, we ought to be very careful. While God does not often judge as immediately and severely as he did Uzzah, he wants us to understand how important it is to reverence Him and treat him as holy.

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, Mark 5

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, and Mark 5.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 39.

This chapter prophesies military disaster for Gog (a man described as “chief prince of Meshek and Tubal” (v. 1b) and Magog (a place—v. 6). Identifying this person and place is a subject too complex for a simple devotional like this one. The chapters surrounding this one in Ezekiel as well as the use of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8 locates these events in the end times after the Millennium. So, what is described here in Ezekiel 39 is still future to Israel and to us. 

But two items in this prophecy are helpful for us today in our walk with God. First, in verses 7-8 God explained why his judgment will fall on Magog so severely. Verse 7 says, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

It is God’s holiness that causes him to judge humanity and bring punishment on people. God is not angry with humanity for no reason and he is not unreasonably brutal toward people. People deserve God’s wrath because we profane his holy name. People do this when they use his name in vain, when they use it to curse others, when they mock biblical standards of righteousness, when they try to deny God’s existence or explain away his word. Our biggest problem spiritually is that, apart from Christ, we hate God. That’s why we disobey his word and try to live life on our own terms. Humanity’s antipathy toward God causes people to speak against him and live in violation of his word. God has been very merciful and patient; allowing humanity thousands of years to enjoy life on earth and the gifts of creation God gave to us. Despite his mercy and patience, humanity has become more evil, more depraved over time. God’s patience will run out and, as he promised, his wrath will fall, and everyone who experiences his wrath more than deserves it. 

We recoil from passages that describe God’s wrath because we are human. We can identify with the pain and horror of human beings suffering the wrath of God. But, in addition to being human, we are also sinners, so most sins are not nearly as evil or offensive to us as they are to a holy God. 

A second item in this prophecy that is helpful to us is the reassurance in verses 25-29 that God is compassionate. This is specifically applied to Israel, but we know that Christ came and died not only to redeem Israel but also people all over the world. So although it is true that God will punish his enemies, his punishment is not unjust nor is it applied without mercy. God is merciful to those who look to him in faith; indeed, Christ himself came to bear the punishment for the sins of all whom God has chosen to be his children. 

Judges 8, Lamentations 2, Romans 14

Read Judges 8, Lamentations 2, and Romans 14. This devotional is about Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All the devastation that God had warned about through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that led to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? If the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time.

What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, 2 Corinthians 2

Read Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 16, and 2 Corinthians 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 16:19-21.

The forecast for Judah, according to Jeremiah, continued to be bleak. There was going to be so many deaths from disease, famine, and sword that God told Jeremiah not to get married or have any children (vv. 1-4). Don’t start a family, Jeremiah, because you will lose some or all of them in death. That was God’s word to Jeremiah. Bleak.

Furthermore Jeremiah was prohibited from paying his respects at anyone’s funeral (vv. 5-7) or enjoying a feast at someone’s home (vv. 6-13). When the Lord’s punishment for Judah came, people would be terrified and then many of them would die.

As usual, the Lord made no apology for bringing this punishment. God’s people had forsaken him and done much evil in his sight (vv. 11-12, 17-18). As hard as it is for us to accept, they deserved to be punished by a just and holy God, just as all of us do.

Compounding their sin was the fact that they had the truth. The true Lord, the one real God, had revealed himself to them but they exchanged that for false gods (v. 18).

As bleak as all of this was, Jeremiah held out hope in the Lord and his promises. Someday, he knew, God would restore his people (vv. 14-15) and the knowledge of God would spread throughout the world (v. 19). Those who worship false gods would realize that their gods were false and would come “from the ends of the earth” to know the true God. This is a prophecy of us Gentiles coming to know God through Christ and, when they come, they will not find an angry God who is looking for people to kill. Instead they will find a willing instructor: “I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the LORD” (v. 21).

This is what we’re doing in evangelism. We are exposing the false gods that people worship (v. 20) and calling them to find truth in the LORD. This is the only hope that anyone has for avoiding the justice of our holy God. Better than that, when God has gathered in everyone he will save, we will enter his kingdom together and spend eternity at the feet of a God who said, “I will teach them” (v. 21). Instead of looking at his word as a burden to bear, something to choke down like a vegetable because it is good for us, we will eagerly feed ourselves with God’s nourishing truth and rejoice and be satisfied in his presence as he teaches us.

Who can you share this saving message with in the coming week?

Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, Psalms 42-44

Read Leviticus 10, Isaiah 6, and Psalms 42-44.

This devotional is about Isaiah 6.

King Uzziah was one of the most enigmatic kings Israel ever had. He reigned over Judah (the Southern Kingdom after Israel was divided following Solomon’s kingship) for over 50 years. In terms of the economy and military, Uzziah was successful. But it was his spiritual leadership that made him such an enigma. At the beginning of his reign, when he was assisted by the prophet Zechariah, he was a righteous ruler, leading God’s people back toward obedience to God’s word. But, as he became more successful and more powerful, he became arrogant, even entering the Temple like a priest to burn incense before God. God punished Uzziah with leprosy and his reign, which started with so much promise, ended disappointingly.

As we saw in Isaiah 6:1, the year of Uzziah’s death was when Isaiah saw his vision of God. For the good of his people, who were so lacking in spiritual leadership, God raised up one of Israel’s greatest prophets by giving him a compelling vision of our God. The theme of Isaiah’s vision is stated in verse 3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The word “holy” means “separate, set apart,” and when the Bible talks about the holiness of God, it does so in two distinct (but related) senses.

One way in which God is “holy” or “set apart” is in his nature. Because he is the Creator, he alone is uncreated and uncaused. That means God is unique from everyone else in creation. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image, so we are like God but he is not like us. His power, his glory, his eternal existence, the fact that he is everywhere present in the fullness of his being—these truths and others make God unique; they make him holy in the deepest essence of his being. That is the primary thing Isaiah saw in his vision of the Lord. Verse 1 says he was “high and exalted, seated on a throne,” which describes God as separate from his creation. He is exalted, he is ruling, he is distant because no created thing has any business coming near him. In fact, verse 1 ends by saying, “and the train of his robe filled the temple.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase, but as I think about it today I think I see the point. The temple was the place where God said his presence would live among his people. It was the place people could go to worship and to have their sins forgiven. It was a place where they could learn about God and talk to him in prayer. It was a special place, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. And, yet, does God really live there? According to Isaiah’s vision, no; only the tails of his tuxedo reside there. The most worshipful, awesome day a Hebrew person had in the Temple was just a mere coattail experience of who God really is. Why? Because he is holy; we can understand who he is and what he is like, but never from the lofty perspective that he occupies.

The first aspect of holiness, then, is the difference between the creator and the created ones. He is exalted in ways that we never will be nor could be. He is unique, set apart, different from any and all of us by his very nature as God.

The second aspect of God’s holiness is the one we usually think of—his complete freedom from sin in any way. Isaiah felt this deep in his spirit when he saw the first aspect of God’s holiness. His response to this vision in verse 5 was “Woe to me! […] I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” When Isaiah saw God depicted in his naturally separate state, he became acutely aware of his own sin. To put it another way, when Isaiah saw the holiness of God’s nature, he became aware of his own lack of moral holiness and feared the consequences.

This vision prepared Isaiah to become a man who railed against the godlessness of his culture with very few results (vv. 8-13). It was a difficult calling, but his understanding of God in this passage and the purifying God graciously did for him gave him everything he needed to be faithful. Isn’t this what we need when living the Christian life becomes so deeply taxing? We need to see God in the scriptures and understand how magnificent, how powerful, how utterly other-worldly he is. Knowing that gives us the power we need to live an other-worldly life for him.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Hebrews 12

Read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Hebrews 12.

This devotional is about Hebrews 12.

Like us, believers in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith. They did not know as much as we do, but they knew that they could not save themselves or atone for their own sins.

Unlike us, believers in the Old Testament learned about God in a more terrifying way. Here in Hebrews 12, verses 18-21 described God’s self-revelation to Moses and the people of Israel. God visually and audibly revealed his holiness to Moses and the people. He took the burning bush that Moses saw and magnified it by 1000 when he set Mt. Sinai on fire and shrouded it with darkness and storms (v. 18). His words were preceded by blaring trumpets (v. 19a) and thundered out loud from heaven (v. 19). God commanded them not to touch Mt. Sinai (v. 18a). If one of their animals wandered over and touched it, they must kill that animal by stoning it (v. 20b). The point there is that the animal was now holy, so they couldn’t even touch it to take its life; they had to kill it by touchless means. Even Moses was terrified by what he saw (v. 21).

That’s how God revealed himself to the people of Israel. We read and learn from that revelation, of course, but that’s not how God reveals himself to us.

Instead, God reveals himself to us with the promise of a heavenly city where he lives (v. 22a), occupied with joyful (not scared) believers in him (v. 22b). He reveals himself to us through the church (v. 23). Yes, he reveals himself as our judge according to verse 23b-c, but he is a judge whose justice has been fully satisfied by Christ (v. 24). Instead of crying out for justice like Abel’s blood did, Christ’s shed blood cries out that justice is satisfied and God’s mercy may be extended to us (v. 24).

So, we worship and serve the same God as the people of the Old Testament, but the God we share in common with them has revealed himself in love and acceptance. He remains holy, just as he was in his Exodus revelation, but by his grace we are welcomed as his friends through Christ.

Based on all this, what should we do with God’s word? Does the grace of God revealed to us mean that we can be casual or selective in our reception and obedience to God’s word? No. Verses 25-29 tell us not to be careless with God’s word. Instead, knowing how fearful God’s revelation in the Old Testament made people, and how fierce his punishment was to those who rejected his word (v. 25), we must be all the more diligent to receive and obey God’s word (vv. 26-27). Just as he judged the unbelieving in those days, he will also judge us if we do not believe his word today (v. 29).

But, our response to God’s revelation should not be dominated by fear. Moses and the Israelites were dominated by fear when they received God’s revelation (vv. 19-21), but not us. Instead, we should be thankful for all God has done for us while we worship him in reverence and awe (v. 28). We must not forget that God is holy, and just, and powerful. But, because we have received the promise of eternal life (the “kingdom that cannot be shaken,” v. 28), our worship should be both thankful and reverent. We should be grateful for all God has done for us and has promised to us in Christ, but we must always remember that he is forever holy and commands us to be holy as well (v. 14).

Are you thankful for the salvation you have in Christ? Are you learning to love God’s holiness and justice as you grow in your faith? Do you have a greater desire to be holy yourself and do you find yourself growing in holiness–by turning away from sin–more and more in your life?

All this is accomplished by receiving God’s word in faith and obeying it. That’s what the writer of Hebrews means when he says, “do not refuse him who speaks” (v. 25a). When you read God’s word and hear God’s word, search your heart and mind and actions for motives and thoughts and acts that displease God. Then, ask for forgiveness and for help to obey going forward in your life. This is the proper response that people who have faith in God will have to the revelation of God’s holiness, grace, and justice.