2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, Proverbs 22:1-16

Read 2 Samuel 10, Ezekiel 48, and Proverbs 22:1-16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 10.

Here in 2 Samuel 10, David—the great warrior king—tried to build a political alliance. According to verse 1, the Ammonite king died and verse 2 tells us his name was Nahash. This man was mentioned in 1 Samuel 11, where he was instrumental in beginning Saul’s career as Israel’s king. Back then, Nahash had besieged Jabesh Gilead and demanded incredibly cruel and gruesome terms for a peaceful settlement (1 Sam. 11:1-11). Saul mustered the men of Israel and defeated Nahash and his army which rallied the nation to Saul as their leader.

Given the events of 1 Samuel 11, it is quite surprising to read that David said, “Nahash… showed kindness to me” (v. 2a). He must have treated David much differently than he did Jabesh Gilead in 1 Samuel 11. Maybe being defeated by Saul made him treat Israel with much greater kindness and generosity. Or maybe this is an example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Nahash was kind to David because Saul hated David and Nahash was the enemy of Saul. We don’t know because Nahash is not mentioned at all between 1 Samuel 11 and 2 Samuel 10. Whatever Nahash did for David left a very favorable impression on him, so David desired to show kindness to Hanun, Nahash’s son. Sending a delegation to express sympathy, as David did in 2 Samuel 10:2c, was an act of political diplomacy. It was a personal kindness, yes, but it was also a political one—a way to encourage peaceful relations between two nations who were near each other geographically. 

David’s kindness, however, was interpreted as espionage (v. 3). Hanun, therefore, humiliated David’s men. In Israelite culture, the beard is a symbol of manhood. Only women and boys had hairless faces, so shaving half of a man’s face was a way to humiliate him before everyone who saw him. That insult was bad enough but cutting off someone’s garments to expose them would be even more humiliating to anyone. These men arrived unarmed since they were on a peaceful mission, so to treat them this way was both personally humiliating and politically insulting. It was an act of war which is how David responded to it (vv. 5-7). 

There is a difference between cautious and paranoid, between skeptical and cynical. A cautious person will trust someone more and more as that person demonstrates trustworthiness over time. A paranoid person trusts no one, ever. A skeptical person wants to believe the best about someone but has plenty of doubts. A cynical person consistently believes the worst about others. A young king like Hanun should have expected to be tested by other nations, so caution and even skepticism were warranted and wise. But Hanun and his military advisors went way beyond skepticism. They were paranoid—unreasonably suspicious. They were also cynical—assuming the worst motives in any and every situation. They reacted as if David’s men were caught spying, not suspected of it. Their response was unjust and unwarranted. It was also unwise.

There is an old saying, “Once burned is twice shy.” That saying expresses something you and I know to be instinctively true—we are doubly cautious toward anyone we feel has burned us or betrayed us in the past. Trust is like a wall of dominoes: it takes a long time to build, one positive act placed next to another with perfect spacing between them. But, just as one flick of the finger can take down the carefully built wall of dominoes, so one foolish act, one rash statement can destroy years of trust and credibility. These are facts of human nature.

Cynicism, however, is far worse. A cynical person believes the worst about others by default. The cynic believes that everyone’s motives are not just suspect but evil, so every act is interpreted as an act of war, even acts that are designed to be peaceful. But cynicism is an incredibly costly way to look at the world. A cynic will never trust anyone enough to have a truly good relationship with that person. A cynic will wound even the person who wants to nothing more than to befriend him. Jesus commanded us to look at others far differently than the cynic looks at others. He commanded us to be kind and generous to everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-36). He commanded you to forgive the guy who sins against you 490 times, if he asks forgiveness (Matt 18:22). If you are a suspicious, cynical, paranoid person, people may not be able to take advantage of you, but they also can’t really love you. If you respond badly to those who try to show you kindness, everyone will end up being your enemy. As followers of Jesus, we must learn to be open-hearted to others around us. We should take some appropriate caution, to be sure, but value the difference between careful and closed. Not only are there eternal rewards for trusting Jesus enough to be good to those who are not good to us, there is the immediate return of cultivating friends instead of creating enemies.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of cynicism because in him we learn what mercy is, what grace is, what forgiveness really means and how costly it is. We also learn that he is sovereign over every event in our lives so that even if others wound us or even kill us, he will bring justice when he determines. Lean on these truths when you are tempted to distrust others; if others sin against you, trust God to take care of you instead.

1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, Mark 2

Read 1 Samuel 26, Ezekiel 36, and Mark 2.

This devotional is about Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace-filled message of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When we intentionally try to reach someone, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

1 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 25, Colossians 4

Read 1 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 25, and Colossians 4.

This devotional is about Colossians 4:5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers. Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5).

Here, the wisdom we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication. Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers. Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then led them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.” Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them. We have hope and joy and peace to offer them. We can show them how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” That image tells us that our talks with unbelievers should be stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them want to talk with us again about him in the future? Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give them reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we show them the possibility of a better life–the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken and how the world Christ promises will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this? Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace–learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, Acts 28

Read Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, and Acts 28.

This devotional is about Ruth 1.

The book of Judges was a difficult, depressing account of how Israel failed to follow the Lord and the results of that failure. The events recorded here in the book of Ruth took place in the same time period as the book of Judges, according to Ruth 1:1. As was often the case in the book of Judges, Israel was suffering; this time it was due to a famine (v. 1b). Worried about feeding his family, a man from Bethlehem named Elimelek took his wife Naomi and his sons Orpah and Ruth to Moab (v. 1c). 
 
A famine like this one was not supposed to happen in Israel. If God’s people worshiped the Lord and obeyed his word, God had promised prosperity for them. What is ironic in this passage is that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” yet Elimelek left the house of bread because of famine. A famine in the house of bread is like IHOP being out of pancakes. But the wickedness of Israel brought God’s discipline on them through this famine. 

Elimelek was not supposed to leave the land of Israel, nor were he sons supposed to find wives among the Moabites, but both things happened. Elimelek died in Moab (v. 3) and his sons, who married Moabite women (v. 4), also died ten years after the family came to Moab (v. 5). Was this an act of judgment for leaving the land and marrying foreign wives? The author of Ruth does not say. Maybe this was just part of God’s providence; maybe it was the consequence of their actions. The truth is, however, that it is never safe nor wise to choose disobedience, no matter how dire your circumstances are.

Meanwhile, God lifted the drought that caused the famine and there was bread again in Bethlehem. Naomi, the widow of Elimelek, determined to return to her homeland (vv. 6-7). Her daughters-in-law pledged themselves to return with her. Maybe that was expected in their culture. Maybe Ruth and Orpah felt bad for Naomi or were uncertain about their prospects for remarriage. Naomi, however, graciously released them from any obligation to come to Israel (vv. 6-13). Orpah took this exit ramp and returned home (v. 14a) but according to verse 14b, “Ruth clung to her.” After another attempt to get Ruth to return home (v. 15), Ruth delivered to Naomi this beautiful statement of faith in verses 16-17: “…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

It must have been a great comfort to Naomi to have Ruth with her, but it did not make the situation any easier to manage. This first chapter of Ruth ended with Naomi returning home, but with a bitterness in her soul (vv. 19-22). It is hard to blame Naomi for feeling the way she did. No one wants to lose a spouse prematurely, but to bury both of your sons as well must have been a particularly painful experience. Not only was she bereft of their love and companionship, she now had no visible means of support. Women in this era who did not have a husband or a son to provide for them had to beg or, in some cases, turn to prostitution for survival. 

And, yet, despite all that God had brought into Naomi’s life and how painful it was for her, Ruth saw the one true God in her mother-in-law. As weak as Naomi’s faith may have been in that moment, she still held on to God as the source of her hope. Ruth, then, became not only a convert to the Lord but, as we’ll see in the chapters to come, Ruth would be an unexpected means of grace in the life of her mother-in-law. This should encourage us to know that, no matter how imperfect our faith, God can and will still use the flickering light of our faith to show others the truth about God and draw them to faith in him.

Judges 5, Jeremiah 51, Romans 11

Read Judges 5, Jeremiah 51, and Romans 11.

This devotional is about Romans 11.

Romans 10 discussed the fact that many Israelites rejected the good news about Christ but, today in chapter 11, Paul was quick to address the fact that not all Jews were in unbelief (v. 1). In verses 2-10, he reminded us that the Jewish people lived in unbelief and rebellion against God for most of their history. So the idea that only some of God’s chosen people were actually chosen to have faith in him is not something new. It is how God has always worked, saving a “remnant” who trusted him from the heart (vv. 5-6).

But why did Israel reject Jesus when he came in human flesh? Wasn’t God’s promise that Messiah would rule over all Israel? Yes, that was the promise and it will still happen (v.26). The reason it didn’t happen with Jesus’ first coming, however, was God’s desire to save us Gentiles (vv. 11-25). God will still redeem Israel, just as he promised, but not “until the full number of Gentiles has come in” (v. 25b).

This is all an expression of God’s mercy (v. 32). He hardened Israel, for a time, so that he would save us. The power of this grace overwhelmed Paul in verses 33-36. It caused him to remark on the greatness of God’s wisdom (v. 33a) and how his wisdom is beyond human comprehension (vv. 34-36).

Is this how you respond to doctrines that are hard to understand? Does the doctrine of election or of the Trinity lift your spirit to worship the immense wisdom of God? Or, does it cause you to question and even deny those doctrines because they are hard for us to understand?

God is all-wise and all-knowing so are we really surprised that he does things we find hard to understand? If everything about God were simple and made perfect sense to limited, fallible people like us, then we should be concerned. So let the difficult doctrines of scripture, the ones you find hard to understand or to accept as true, cause you to look to God in awe. His judgments are “unsearchable… and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, Romans 3

Read Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, and Romans 3.

This devotional is about Romans 3.

Romans 2 told us that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, Paul acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). So Gentiles like us are on the same level with the Jewish people. God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name.

Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are also not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand–there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Deuteronomy 31, Jeremiah 23, 2 Corinthians 7

Read Deuteronomy 31, Jeremiah 23, and 2 Corinthians 7.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 31.

God had made extraordinary promises to his people and he had given them the complex gift of his law. I call his law “complex” because it should have been a blessing to Israel but it was, in fact, a curse. It could have been a blessing; if they had followed God’s laws, they would have been blessed in every way—spiritually, militarily, financially, and more. However, without a new nature, sinful people trying to live by God’s laws are always destined to fail. And, the Israelites did fail! Not only did they never get all the land God promised to them, they never had the financial prosperity or the spiritual power and joy that God promised to them. 

One reason why they failed to keep God’s law is that they did not know God’s law. Verses 12-13 describe the need for all the people to hear the law of God. This passage mandates that God’s law be read to his people, aloud, every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles (v. 10). The purpose of this reading was not only so that they would know God’s law but so that they would “learn to fear the Lord your God…” (v. 12b). Likewise, their children would hear it and “learn to fear the Lord your God…” (v. 13b).

Fearing God is an Old Testament way of expressing true belief in God; it is similar to the concept of the new birth (or regeneration) in the New Testament. A person who feared God was one who received God’s law not just as a way to regulate behavior but rather as an expression of the character of the living God. He would hear all that God required of him and would be convicted of all the ways he had failed to live up to God’s laws already. He would also be struck with his own inability to keep these laws in the days ahead of his life. Knowing what God required of him and also how weak and sinful his own heart was, he would fall before the Lord looking for mercy for his past sins and grace to walk with God in the days ahead. If Israel had treasured God’s laws for the revelation that they were, God would have done great spiritual work within them and among them for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom 10:17).

But there is little evidence that God’s people even read God’s word once every seven years as this passage commanded them. The ignorance of his revelation is one of the main reasons why they never became the nation God promised them they could become.

This should remind us to treasure God’s word—read it, hear it, and obey it in our lives. You’re off to a good start today by reading these passages and this devotional. Now, be in church ready to hear God’s word on Sunday. Join a small group and soak up the reading and discussion of God’s word. God’s word is the blood that oxygenates a Christian’s spiritual life. Let that blood pump through your life and see what God does.

Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, 2 Corinthians 4

Read Deuteronomy 26, Jeremiah 18, and 2 Corinthians 4.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18.

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

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel invincible.

In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse the phrase, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” suggests that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” That explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure. Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them? Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of their rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”

This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understood, for the first time in his life, how God feels every time you or I or anyone else in humanity sins. He knew personally what it is like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and then be personally rejected despite that gracious offer.

Jeremiah knew, after the plot described in this chapter, what it was like to be righteous but have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness. God was so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross.

What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness. Only by his grace through our Lord Jesus Christ is that wrath turned away from me and everyone else who is in Christ.

But the anger Jeremiah felt at the plot against him and how it resembled God’s anger against all sinners is something we should keep in mind when we struggle with temptation. If we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, 1 Corinthians 16

Read Deuteronomy 22, Jeremiah 14, and 1 Corinthians 16.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 22.

Critics of the Bible often point to the punishments spelled out in a passage like today’s to show that the Bible is harsh, unreasonable, and unloving. Cross-dressers (v. 5), promiscuous single women (vv. 13-21), and people who commit adultery (v. 22-24) all get the death penalty for their sins, even though they were all “consenting adults.” Rapists also were to receive the death penalty (vv. 25-27). That maybe harsh by today’s standards of punishment but it probably is not an example modern critics will bring up. These punishments seem harsh only because of how comfortable we are with sin; in God’s sight, every sin is an eternal offense, so these punishments should teach us something about how our sins—and the desires that compel them—look to the holy eyes of God.

This passage is also a favorite of critics because some of these laws seem arbitrary (vv. 9-12).

But notice the other case laws in this passage. If someone else—whether you know him or not—is about to suffer the loss of his valuable property, you are supposed do what you can to prevent that loss (vv. 1-5). “Do not ignore it,” the scripture says in verse 1, verse 3, and verse 4.

More interestingly, you’re allowed to take a mother bird’s eggs but not the mother bird (vv. 6-7). The promise of obedience to this passage is “so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life” (v. 7b). But this act of conservation doesn’t benefit any Israelite person; it’s just good management of God’s creation. It teaches us not to be destructive just because we could be.

Verse 8 of our passage tells God’s people to make sure that they build reasonable safety precautions into their homes. Since people in these desert cultures used their roof to entertain in the evenings when the weather is more comfortable, God’s word commanded them to be careful to protect human life by putting appropriate fencing around the roof.

These laws show that God was not harsh or arbitrary at all toward people in general. He wanted to protect his nation from becoming a lawless culture full of promiscuity. The penalties spelled out in these passages were to protect the importance of the Jewish family and to emphasize important God’s holiness is to him. The laws against abusing birds and requiring Israel to watch out for each other’s property and protect each other’s lives show how much God values human life. They teach us not to be so self-centered that we look the other way when someone is about to lose their valuable property. Instead, we should watch out for others, showing them the kind of kindness and compassion that we would want others to show to us and that God himself does show for us. If we find a lost wallet or purse, a lost smartphone, or see a wandering child, God wants us to do what we can to help. We may not have a flat roof that needs to be fenced in but are we careful to clear our sidewalks of snow and ice? As people who belong to God, we should be conscientious and kind toward everyone, not just conscious of our own stuff.

Finally, the harsh punishments in this chapter remind us of the deep grace of God toward us. God hates sin and is uncompromising in how he wants sin to be punished. He is so uncompromising that he demands that every sin should be punished to the fullest extent of justice. Yet, because he loves his creation and is compassionate toward us, he did not look the other way when we wandered from his commands. Instead, he came in the person of Christ both to look for and find us when we were lost AND to bear the just punishment that our sins deserve. No sin is trivial in the sight of God but none is so putrid that Christ’s death cannot cover it. The cross-dresser, the adulterer, the promiscuous, the self-centered one who never helps another in trouble are all savable, if God wills, through the atonement of Christ. The same goes for those who speak lies, who gossip, who break things and hit people in uncontrolled rage, who lust but don’t touch, who take the eggs AND the mother bird.

No sinner is beyond the saving grace of God; if you’ve been redeemed from one of these sins—or from any sin at all—give thanks that God is uncompromisingly holy but also incredibly compassionate, loving, and gracious toward all of us who are unholy.

Deuteronomy 11, Jeremiah 4, 1 Corinthians 10

Today, read Deuteronomy 11, Jeremiah 4, and 1 Corinthians 10.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 11.

Here in Deuteronomy 11, as Israel was just about to enter the promised land, Moses urged the Israelites to love God and keep his commands (v. 1). It should have been easy for them to trust the Lord because they saw with their own eyes God’s greatness and power (v. 2), his deliverance from Egypt (vv. 3-4), and his judgments on those who rebelled against him and his servants (vv. 5-7). If the generation who heard these words saw all these things but didn’t recognize from experience that there are immense benefits to obedience and high costs for disobedience to God’s word, then nobody would ever recognize these things. So Moses urged them to live in obedience to these commands (v. 8) so that they could enjoy all the blessings of obedience (vv. 9-12).

The generation to which Moses wrote these words did have a measure of obedience and did experience some of these blessings. Unlike their parents, they did not disobey when God commanded them to take the promised land. Instead, they marched in boldly, in faith, and defeated Jericho and many surrounding cities.

Yet they did not obey consistently. We know that because they were not able to drive out the Canaanites. God promised he would do it for them if they obeyed him (vv. 22-25), but it didn’t happen. Despite all the blessings and curses they had seen and all that God had promised, they did not serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Instead, the history of Israel in the promised land was one of enslavement to idolatry and struggle to survive, just as God had promised in verses 16-17.

So what led to the failure of God’s people to get everything that God had promised to them? It was a lack of genuine faith and new spiritual life. God’s laws are righteous and just and bring blessing to those who obey them, but without a gracious change of heart through regeneration, no one can obey them. Though the Lord urged them to know his word and keep it always before them (vv. 16-21), they had the same sinful hearts that you and I came into the world with and still struggle with today. Israel’s history demonstrates again and again how much all of humanity needs the saving power of God. Even when we know all the good that can come from obedience, our sinful hearts turn to unrighteousness automatically apart from the grace of God.

These passages to Israel, while encouraging in what they promise, should cause any reader (including the original readers) to cry out to God for help. On our own, without the grace of God in new life, none of us can live up to God’s righteousness laws and thus receive his blessings.

That is why Jesus came. If humanity could obey God, we would never need a savior. We would only need to hear his word and obey it.

But, lacking the ability to serve God on our own, the promises and commands in this passage should overwhelm people with their human inability and drive us to cry out to God for the grace of Christ to believe and obey his word despite all our human inklings against faith and obedience.

As believers, we have the changed heart within that most Israelites lacked throughout their history. God’s grace in salvation teaches us to reject the passions of idolatry and worship and serve God alone (Titus 2:11-14) and it also empowers us to do what God commands us to do in his word (Phil 2:13).

But since we retain our sinful nature even after trusting Christ, we need to be reminded again and again of all that God has promised us if we obey his word. We also need to be continually reminded that God made obeying his word possible through his grace on the cross. Since we have these things—everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)—let’s claim those promises by faith and receive the blessings God offers by living obediently to his word.

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 64, Proverbs 14:1-18

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 64, and Proverbs 14:1-18 today.

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 they 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, saying 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, appropriate for this age though not for Isaiah’s). 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 4, Isaiah 63, 1 Corinthians 5

Read Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 63, 1 Corinthians 5 today.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 4.

In this chapter Moses transitioned from surveying Israel’s recent history to expounding on God’s law. Verses 1-14 form the transitional paragraph. In verse 10, Moses called on the adults who were children at the time to “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” He reminded those who were there how terrifying it was to see the glory of God revealed on that mountain (vv. 11-13) and how God graciously stopped speaking directly to the people and, instead, mediated his word through Moses (v. 14).

In verse 15 Moses used the fact that God did not have a physical form to remind Israel of the fact that the Ten Commandments forbade them from making “for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape…” (v. 16). The rest of that paragraph (vv. 15-31) spelled out what would happen if Israel turned to idolatry. Israel’s history showed the complete fulfillment of what Moses described here.

Then, in verses 32-34, Moses called God’s people to contemplate world history. What God did for Israel, redeeming them as an intact nation from Egypt, was unprecedented. God did this, according to verse 35, to demonstrate the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). Everything God did for Israel was proof that he was the only true God; therefore, according to verse 39, Israel should “acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.”

With these words, Moses reframed the Ten Commandments, which he will repeat in tomorrow’s reading in Deuteronomy 5. But Moses’s point here is that God’s commands were not a burden to Israel; they were gifts from the only being in the universe who knows absolute truth.

If Israel would reverence the Lord for who he is and what he has done, then they could see his commands as a blessing that, when obeyed, produce even greater blessings.

You and I are not Jews. We live under a different covenant. God’s power was not demonstrated to us on a fire-filled mountain; it was demonstrated to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s commands to us have many similarities and many differences to Moses’s law and his commands to us come with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Still, like Israel, we are called to believe God and follow him in faith and obedience to receive his blessings.

Does the Christian life seem like a burden to you or a gift? Are God’s commands a crushing load that you don’t want to carry or are they a path of liberation from bondage to sin and its consequences? As believers in Jesus, we are called to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt 28:20). Since we believe in Jesus, we must also believe that obedience to his word will bring good, not harm, into our lives. So is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting the commands of God? Will you, by faith, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and follow him in obedience by faith?