Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Read Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you. But if you don’t stand alone, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 11

Read Joshua 22 and Jeremiah 11.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 11.

The first seventeen verses of this chapter continued Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah but then verses 18-23 interrupted that prophecy abruptly. Some of God’s people were tired of hearing about his anger and coming wrath. Instead of heeding the message, they decided to kill the messenger (v. 19b). Jeremiah was completely unaware that there was a plot afoot against him (v. 19a) but God supernaturally revealed it to him (v. 18).

Jeremiah responded to this plot not by running away to some distant land. Instead, he called on God to deal with his enemies justly. He appealed to God’s righteousness and his knowledge of everyone’s hearts and minds (v. 20a-b). Then he requested in verse 20c-d that God bring his wrath on those who sought to kill him. God answered Jeremiah’s prayer and promised to “bring disaster” on his enemies (v. 23b). But that disaster would happen in God’s time–“in the year of their punishment” (v. 23b).

Note that Jeremiah’s request for God’s justice was based on truth. He mentioned that God is one who will “test the heart and the mind” (v. 20b). This shows that Jeremiah was not seeking an unfair punishment just because he was disliked by “the people of Anathoth” (v. 21a). He was not asking God to carry out his personal vendetta but was asking God to do the right thing as a perfectly righteous judge.

Although God divinely protected Jeremiah in this instance, he did allow Jeremiah to experience persecution at other times in his life as we will read about in future devotionals. God also allowed other faithful prophets of his to be killed. So God does not always promise or provide absolute protection for his people or even for those who are serving him in difficult circumstances. What God does provide is protection within his will and just punishment in his timing.

This should give us comfort when we hear of persecution of other brothers and sisters of ours in Christ and if or when we experience persecution for Christ. God is watching over your life and he will hear and answer your requests for help. But, as his servants, we must believe that he knows best about when and how to administer his justice.

It is also important to remember that God may choose to have mercy on persecutors. The very people you would like to see experience God’s judgment might be ones God chooses to save. Think about Stephen, for a moment, the first Christian martyr. He was executed for preaching Christ (Acts 7) and could have justly called for God’s justice on his persecutors. Instead, with his dying breath, he called out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60b). One of those who persecuted him and for whom he prayed as Saul of Tarsus (8:1). God allowed Saul to continue persecuting God’s children for a while, but then he saved Saul and used him to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. That was an answer to Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60.

All of us were guilty before God and deserve his righteous wrath; those of us in Christ have received his mercy despite our sins. It is appropriate to pray for God’s justice when someone persecutes you but it is also Christlike to pray for God’s mercy.

Is someone making your life difficult because you are a believer in Christ? Have you prayed for God to have mercy on them or to bring justice to them in his time and according to his will? Instead of holding anger and resentment toward others, these are the righteous ways to deal with persecution. As Romans 12:18-21 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Joshua 18-19, Jeremiah 9

Read Joshua 18-19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Remember a few days ago when God commanded the people not to say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (7:4)? That chapter was about the spiritual pride of the people. Because they believed that God was in their city, they believed they were invincible.

This chapter is much sadder; tears recur throughout its verses. The pride of Judah would quickly flatten like air being let out of an inflated balloon as the Babylonians conquered the city of Jerusalem, despite “The temple of the Lord!” within its walls. This chapter prophesies of a judgment that was still future to Judah when it was given. God calls them to stop lying to themselves about their exceptionalism and get serious about their true spiritual condition. Sin ran through Judah like blood runs through your veins; yet God’s people were proud. Therefore, God promised them, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (v. 11).

The only thing God allows us to be proud about is him. Verses 23-24 say, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me….” But this is not pride in their intellect or insight; only God can give “understanding to know” him and he gives it according to his will, to those who are humble and repentant, by his grace.

Also, note that just slapping God’s name on your beliefs is nothing to be proud about. Instead, the proper boast of the believer is in the knowledge of God as he truly is. Verse 24c-f says, “‘that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” Kindness is foreign to sinful hearts filled with hate. Justice and righteousness are foreign concepts to guilty sinners before a holy God. Only the grace of God can cause us to love and be proud of God as he really is. Once we know him, though, we have what we need to weather the problems of life, even if the strongholds we trust (“the temple of the Lord!”) are thrown down in front of us.

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 29, Isaiah 56

Read Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Everyone wants to feel optimistic about the future. Because there are always problems and struggles in this life, many people hope that things will be better in the future. There is a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell you that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • Similarly, they are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark… lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders is what they teach which Isaiah gave us in verse 12c-d, “tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesy better days to come. Their intention is not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message. When someone speaks for God but prophesies prosperity and hope only, with no discussion of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get in our church but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence you hear. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of hope through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.

Deuteronomy 27, Isaiah 54

Read Deuteronomy 27 and Isaiah 54.

This devotional is about Isaiah 54:9-10.

God made so many promises to Israel and, though he fulfilled many of them, many others were not fulfilled due to Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. After Jesus came and was rejected by most of Israel, God turned his attention to saving Gentiles. Although some Jewish people find eternal life in Christ by God’s grace, most are locked in unbelief, a judgment of God for rejecting their Messiah.

While God is busy saving Gentiles, does that men he is done with Israel?

No.

Most of God’s chosen people are unbelievers in this age, but God is not finished with his nation. Instead, this chapter re-affirms God’s plans to regather his people Israel from all over the earth and establish his kingdom among them, in Jerusalem, just as he promised.

Verse 9 of Isaiah 54 told us that, when God re-gathers his people Israel, that he will make a promise to them. This promise is like the one he made to Noah and his descendants (v. 9). Just as he promised never again to destroy the earth with water, he promised his people that, “‘I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

So does God have a future for the nation of Israel?

Yes.

He will gather them up, give them new life to believe in him, and then never cut them off in anger or judgment again. But verse 10e describes God as “… the Lord, who has compassion on you.” This is why Israel was not permanently cut off or rejected. God is compassionate and patient and gave them many opportunities to turn to him. Someday they will turn to him in faith and all will be right with the world.

Just as Israel struggled with unbelief, we too fail the Lord and need his compassion. God’s faithfulness to Israel and the way he repeated his promises to them should give us hope. None of us lives obediently to the Lord like we should. Sometimes that causes us to receive his discipline but it never causes him to withdraw his promises.

If you feel defeated by your own struggles and failures, take hope. We are accepted and forgiven in Christ; therefore, God can say to us, “‘my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

May this promise fill you with peace and hope today.

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.

Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143

Read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would they respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer than what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23). “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, Psalm 135

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, and Psalm 135.

This devotional is about Isaiah 22.

Isaiah 22 is a prophecy against Judah and, more specifically, Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Isaiah refered to this area as “the valley of vision” which is a tough expression to interpret. It is tough because (a) Jerusalem is on a hill surrounded by valleys rather than being a valley or in a valley and (b) the people have no vision in the sense of knowing God’s revelation. As I mentioned, it is a hard expression to interpret; one commentator I consulted thought it might be ironic. Jerusalem was on a hill and should have seen (“vision”) the invasion that was coming but metaphorically it was in a moral and spiritual valley. Since they were in a metaphorical valley, they were unable to see God’s judgment coming for themselves. Therefore, God sent Isaiah with a vision of coming judgment which is described in this chapter.

Anyway, verse 10 directly referenced Jerusalem so we know that is what Isaiah is talking about. And, verse 10 says that they “tore down houses to strengthen the wall” around Jerusalem. They also “built a reservoir between the two walls” according to verse 11a. These both refer to preparations that were made to harden Jerusalem against attack.

Because they were confident in the preparations they had made against being attacked, the people of Jerusalem were having a party. Verse 13 says, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink,’ you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’” Instead of repenting (“to weep and to wail,” v. 12) of their sin, they were taking joy and confidence in the human preparations they had made to withstand attacks from the Babylonians.

God’s message to them in verse 11 could be paraphrased as, “Yes, you made some smart moves to prepare for attack,” but, according to verse 11, “you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.” God’s people saw preparing for the attack as a tactical problem that could be solved with smart decisions instead of a spiritual problem that would only be solved with repentance and the grace of God.

We don’t face this kind of military attack as a judgment for our sins because we are not Israel. However, we do tend to look for human solutions rather than to God when we are faced with moral and spiritual problems. This text calls us, then, to look at the problems in our lives and then turn to God for help and favor in withstanding and overcoming those problems.

What problems are you facing in your life? Are you taking them to the Lord, asking for his help or are you looking for a better human solution? God brings problems to us that tear us down so that we will learn to put our faith solely in him.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Psalm 125

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, and Psalm 125.

This devotional is about Isaiah 10:1-2.

America is not Israel and the promises God made to Israel do not apply to any nation at all in this age. However, all of God’s laws teach some kind of principle and many of those principles are morals that transcend all cultures and would apply in any nation. God’s justice, for instance, is an absolute standard. Any nation, therefore, is responsible to create laws that are just and apply those laws justly.

An example is here in Isaiah 10:1 which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” The word “woe” is an expression of deep agony and it often is used of the pain that will come to those who fall under God’s judgment. Verse 1, then, is saying that those who make unjust laws will cry out in agony when they fall under the judgment of God.

Verse 2 gives some examples of unjust laws that Israel had made. Those examples are:

  • depriving the poor of their rights (to private property, to fair and righteous treatment)
  • withholding justice from the oppressed
  • taking advantage of widows and the fatherless.

These are all groups who have been weakened in one way or another. Being weak made them easy to take advantage of. Unscrupulous neighbors could take their property, for example, without fear of retaliation. Just laws, however, would stand opposed to that kind of theft and a just judge would apply that law justly and award damages to the poor person who was oppressed and taken advantage of by a rich neighbor.

Our American legal system, in theory at least, protects the poor and the rich alike. Both can have their day in court and, all other things being equal, should have a judge who will apply the law impartially.

But we have our favored and disfavored groups in this country, too. Christian bakers and florists, for instance, seem to find themselves at a disadvantage in recent years in court when they are sued for refusing to be hired for a “gay” wedding. This is just one example; I’m sure you can scan the news and find others.

I wonder if it ever occurs to lawmakers or judges that they will give an account to God about whether or not they have governed justly? Again, we are not Israel but justice is an attribute of God’s character and he demands that all people with power use it justly. So God will hold unjust Americans responsible and they will know true “woes” when they stand before a holy God.

But this also applies to us. If you are in a position of leadership and show favoritism or practice injustice, God sees it and will hold you accountable. Since God is just, we his children by faith should strive to be just in all that we do. Woe to us if we refuse.