2 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 23

Read 2 Samuel 16 and Ezekiel 23.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 23.

Societies do not look kindly on prostitutes. Some women are forced into prostitution against their will due to economic hardship or threats of violence or through slavery. If we knew their stories, we might look on them more kindly on these women and put more shame on the men who hire them. The reasons, however, do not justify prostitution and it is wicked in God’s sight.

In this chapter God compared Israel, represented by Samaria (v. 4d), and Judah, represented by Jerusalem (v. 4d) as prostitutes. Their idolatry is compared to prostitution in the sense that they desired and gave themselves to other gods instead of to the God of their covenant (v. 49). God explained and defended the judgment that Israel received from the Assyrians and the judgment that would come to the Judeans as the consequences of their unfaithfulness to him. The logic of this passage goes like this: “You want to give yourself to the gods of the Assyrians? I’ll marry you to the Assyrians in every way.”

The purpose of this passage is to teach us to empathize with God. God loves his people and married himself to them by a covenant. Instead of wanting God as much as god wanted them, Israel and Judah pined for others. If your spouse did that to you, you would be hurt; it would also arouse in you deep feelings of anger and betrayal. You’d feel this way both toward your spouse who wanted someone else and the person that he or she wanted instead of you.

This is how God feels when we love material things more than we love him. It’s how he feels when entertainment is more appealing to us than worship. It describes the pain he experiences when being accepted in society matters more to us than ordering our lives by his commands. James 4:4 uses this very language to warn us: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

In Christ, there is hope for our adulterous hearts. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

This is what we need when our hearts are captivated by other things more than God. We need to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness and deliverance. If you find yourself valuing other things above your walk with God, let this passage help you understand why God responds the way he does. He is jealous for you (v. 25) and wants you back.

2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21

Read 2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just. God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness. His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within his creation when sin is punished.

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true; God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation. In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people.

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Read 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

This devotional is about Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment on the nation’s sins personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light….” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgment even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins–those were punished on the cross–he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?

1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2

Read 1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2.

This devotional is about read 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 that God had said through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes. Unlike the victory of faith that God gave to David in 1 Samuel 17, which we also read today, there was only defeat and judgment for Judah, David’s people, a few hundred years later.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Judah’s pride about being 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 lead 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? It sure seems like that’s what people think and, 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.

1 Samuel 9, Jeremiah 46

Read 1 Samuel 9 and Jeremiah 46.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 9.

The beginning of this chapter told us that Saul came from a good family. Verse 1 told us that his father Kish was “a man of standing.” Saul’s personal appearance was striking, too; verse 2 said he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.”

Still, Kish was a farmer like most of the other people in Israel. Farming is labor-intensive, especially for farmers who lived before tractors were invented. So, like everyone else, Saul worked in the family business from a young age. His family was prosperous and he was tall, dark, and handsome (as they say) but he was by no means a trust fund baby.

After the general introduction to Saul in verses 1-2, we are given a glimpse into his daily life. Some of his families donkeys were lost and Saul and one of their slaves was sent out to look for them. This was a hassle and a drag on productivity, but searching for missing animals was not out of the ordinary. Saul and his helper looked for the donkeys but could not find them (v. 4) so Saul was ready to give up (v. 5). The servant who was sent with him decided to try divine intervention, and urged Saul to go with him to see Samuel. Perhaps God would give them some insight through Samuel that would help them find the missing donkeys (v. 6).

So far there is nothing spectacular about this story. They lost some animals and couldn’t find them so they asked for God’s help through one of his prophets. Could have happened to anyone on any day.

Yet God was working. The lost donkeys were God’s method for introducing Saul to Samuel and for showing Samuel the man he should anoint to be Israel’s first king (vv. 15-17). God has two ways of working in the world: (1) miracles and (2) providence.

  • A miracle is when the normal laws of nature are superseded by God’s divine act. We see that happening in this passage when God spoke audibly to Samuel (vv. 15-17).
  • Providence is when God works his will through the non-miraculous events and choices of everyday life. The lost donkeys were an act of providence; so was the idea that Saul’s servant had to consult with Samuel (v. 6).

God is capable of miracles, of course, but he uses that method rarely. God’s providence is the normal, everyday means by which he accomplishes his will in this world. What felt like an annoying fact of life to Saul–the stray donkeys—was actually an act of God to lead him somewhere good.

If you look back at your life, where you are today is the sum total of the choices you’ve made and some “random” things that just happened to you but that took you in a different direction, even if it was only a slightly different direction at the outset. Where you are today, then, is not an accident or a random event. It is the providential work of a loving, gracious God.

Not every nuisance in life, like losing your donkeys, leads to some amazing place in the providence of God. Once, my car key broke off in the ignition of my car. It was annoying, but a pair of pliers and a spare car key kept it from being anything more than annoying. As far as I can tell, that problem did not change the trajectory of my life at all. It is just one of the things that we deal with in a fallen world.

But there are times when ordinary problems or seemingly random things take us to a new place in the will of God. We don’t know when it is happening, but we can see it in reverse. My point here is not to say, “Don’t complain about the nuisances in your life because maybe God’s gonna make you king through them!” Rather, my point is to say, do you see the loving hand of God working in your life to lead you to places where you wouldn’t have chosen to go? If so, can you keep that in mind when things don’t go as expected in the future? And, can you trust that God will work in your life through providence today and tomorrow just as he has in the past?

Judges 10:1-11:11, Jeremiah 23

Read Judges 10:1-11:11 and Jeremiah 23.

This devotional is about Judges 10:16b: “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

The book of Judges recorded God’s relationship with Israel in the Promised Land before the era of the kings began. Israel was settled in the promised land, but they still struggled to trust God and live according to his word. The result of their struggle was a cycle that repeated continuously throughout the book of Judges including here in our reading for today:

  • Phase 1: Disobedience (10:6) to God’s word which led to:
  • Phase 2: Defeat & oppression by their enemies as an act of God’s judgment (10:7-9).
  • Phase 3: Repentance in which God’s people turned to him for relief from their enemies (10:10-16).
  • Phase 4: Deliverance in which God sent a judge to give them victory over their enemies (11:1ff).
  • Phase 5: Obedience (for a while) until they lapsed back into phase 1.

As the shampoo bottle says, “Rinse and repeat.”

Throughout all phases this cycle–and, in fact, at every stage in Israel’s history–God’s love for his people remained. He stayed committed to the covenant he had made with them despite their disobedience and failure. Here in 10:11-14, God pushed back a bit on their repentance. He reminded them of all the times he had saved them after their repentance (v. 11) then told them to forget about it this time (v. 12) like a young girlfriend or boyfriend who says, “We’re never getting back together again.”

God’s compassion remained, despite his frustration. Israel’s suffering under the Ammonites got under God’s skin, too. As verse 16b put it, “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Sin brings misery and suffering and, although God loves justice, he does not enjoy the suffering that his people endure for their sins. That is why he forgives us again and again and again when we repent. It is the infinite merits of Christ who lived as our righteousness and died as our sacrifice that keeps us in God’s good graces but it is also the incredible compassion of God that keeps him faithful to us as well.

Our sin struggles–meaning, our repeated failures despite sometimes good intentions–may cause us to wonder at times if God will ever stop forgiving us. That, in turn, may cause us to wonder if we should even bother repenting. This verse and many others in scripture teach us that God’s compassion and mercy is much greater than we can imagine.

If you are in Christ, keep striving for holiness and don’t ever quit because you fear God’s displeasure. In Jesus we are accepted; his blood allows the ocean of God’s compassion to keep restoring us when we look to him.

So keep looking to him….

Joshua 11, Jeremiah 5

Read Joshua 11 and Jeremiah 5.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 5:24: “They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’”

When God opened Noah’s ark, he made a covenant with humanity called the “Noahic Covenant.” The sign of that covenant was the rainbow and the content of the covenant was the promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood. Part of that promise, though, was that there would be a predictability to the world: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen 8:22).

God has been faithful to this promise and here in Jeremiah 5:24 he raised it as evidence against the unbelief of his people. Instead of realizing that this was an expression of God’s love, people take it for granted. Other passages of scripture (Ps 19:1, Rom 1:20, Acts 14:17) tell us that this operation of nature is a powerful witness to God’s existence, power, goodness, and love. Yet humanity–whether Jewish or Gentile–is so hardhearted that people deny God’s existence or his knowability. If you’ve ever wondered why people who have never heard of Jesus are condemned, this is a big reason why. The first reason, of course is sin; we all sin and sin demands eternal death. But part of the wickedness of sin is that people see God’s goodness and love each day, depend on it for survival and existence, but don’t cry out for God to save us or reveal himself to us.

In the next verse, Jeremiah 5:25, God said he has taken these things away from his people because of their sins. Although God’s creation witnesses to all humanity about him, only those who know him will worship him for his creation. It is a beautiful summer day as I write this; maybe it will be when you read it. Take time to thank God for his love and faithfulness to all humanity. Then ask God to help us as a church family reach others with the gospel they need to worship the Creator God for who he really is.

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

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 16, Isaiah 43

Read Deuteronomy 16 and Isaiah 43.

This devotional is about Isaiah 43.

In this chapter God calls his people to follow him. He promised his presence with them and urged them not to fear (v. 1). He said that he would preserve them through problems and trials (vv. 2-3). He told them he loved them (v. 4) and reminded them that they were witnesses to the world that he was the true God in opposition to other so-called gods (vv. 9-13).

Despite all of this grace, God bemoaned the fact that his people did not worship him (vv. 22-24). Instead of “burdening” God with worship, God told his people that, “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (v. 24). All of this demonstrates how deep our depravity is. God pours grace after grace, promise after promise on us; instead of smothering God with praise, thanks, and worship, we prefer idols and weigh the Lord down with our sins.

Thankfully, verse 25 reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is the most immediately important promise for us in this life. Despite the weight and enormity of our sins, God graciously forgives them all. And why does he do this? Because of his love? Yes, but in the immediate context he told us that forgiveness is granted “for my own sake.” It is part of the immutable nature of God to be compassionate and forgiving. When God forgives us, he doesn’t demonstrate weakness; he shows us the enormous strength of his character.

What is the worst sin you’ve ever forgiven someone for? What about the worst sin that God has ever forgiven for you? Does God’s forgiveness open your heart to him in thanks and worship?

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

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.