Judges 4, Jeremiah 17

Read Judges 4 and Jeremiah 17.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 17.

In this chapter, Jeremiah continued declaring God’s coming judgment on Judah (vv. 3-4, 27). In this chapter, God addressed the root problem which was a heart hardened against God. We saw this in verse 1 which said that Judah’s sin was “engraved with an iron tool… on the tablets of their hearts.” Verse 5 pronounced a curse on them both for trusting “in man” but also for a “heart [that] turns away from the LORD.”

So, God’s people turned to idols and rejected God because they had sinful hearts. As God spoke to them through his law and his prophets, they hardened their hearts to his word like a callous hardens your skin when a shovel or a rake beats against it. The result God promised was that their lives would dry up. Their withering joy and prosperity was a sharp contrast to “the one who trusts in the LORD.” That person is well watered (v. 8a) and “never fails to bear fruit.”

Verse 9 is one of the best known verses in Jeremiah. If you went to AWANA as a child or have ever used any kind of verse memory program, you’re probably familiar with this verse, Jeremiah 17:9. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The deceitfulness of our hearts leads us into sin by telling us that our sin isn’t that bad or that some excuse or circumstance gives us an exception to do what God commands us not to do. The heart also deceives us by telling us that we are God-fearing, God-honoring people even while we live in sinful ways.

Verse 9 also tells us that our deceitful hearts are “beyond cure.” That informs us that we will revert to sin, no matter how much we swear and resolve to change our ways and do better. No amount of therapy, willpower, self-help literature, or human accountability can change the heart. If they succeed in changing our actions, it is only temporary or because we’ve replaced one sin with another.

The final phrase of verse 9 says, “Who can understand it?” That question is answered by verse 10, “I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind….” God knows your heart and mine better than you do or I do. But what’s in your heart will eventually show itself in what you do. That’s why the last phrase of verse 10 says, “…to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” God knows our hearts but he judges our actions? Why? Because actions proceed from the heart.

Verse 11 prophesied humiliation for those who sin but verses 12-13 offer hope to those who will receive it. God’s temple (“our sanctuary”) is his “glorious throne,” place to bow ourselves in worship before him. In this age, we come to God’s throne spiritually through prayer (Heb 4:16) but, like God’s people in the Old Testament, we come humbly to him, putting our hope in him (v. 13) and crying out for his healing (v. 14).

God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. And that answer is delivered to us when we pray.

So…

  • Do you have a recurring sin problem? Cry out to God and believe the promise of verse 14, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed.”
  • Is your spiritual life dry? Remind yourself that God is “the spring of living water” (v. 13e).
  • Is your faith weak? Go to God in prayer saying, “…save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
  • Are you afraid of God’s judgment? Say to the Lord what verse 17 says, “Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster.”

I’ll say it again: God is the answer to every spiritual problem you have. Pray to him regularly until he answers with what you need.

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification tome to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95

Today’s readings are Leviticus 8, Proverbs 23, Psalm 95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95.

God’s commands only seem burdensome to us because we want to make our own rules and live by our own desires. If humanity understood how much God loves us, we would all view God’s commands as loving and gracious because obedience to them will protect us from the damage and pain that sin causes us and others around us.

Here in Psalm 95, the songwriter encouraged God’s people to come together to sing and shout the Lord’s praises (vv. 1-2, 6) because of his greatness (vv. 3-5) and his care for his people (v. 7). In the last four verses, the song turned from encouraging God’s people to praise him to urging God’s people not to harden their hearts toward him as they had in the past (vv. 8-11).

When the song writer referenced Meribah and Massah in verse 8, he was calling our attention to the events of Exodus 17. That’s where the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God due to the lack of drinking water, so God commanded Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water poured forth. The point of this section is to remind us that God wants good things for us and will provide for us but we must trust him and not complain to him. When we sit in judgment on God or his word instead of praising and thanking him, we are hardening our hearts to his grace (v. 7b) and cutting ourselves off from the good things he wants to do for us.

Do you find it hard to praise God? Does your mind go blank when the topic of giving thanks to God comes up? Could that be happening because you’ve hardened your heart against God, complaining that he hasn’t given you something instead of worshipping him for who he is and all that he has done for us?

God has been good to us. He has been merciful to us when we’ve rejected him and his word by saving us. Let’s praise and thank him, then, instead of hardening our hearts toward him.

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalm 55

Today’s readings are Exodus 7, Jobs 24, and Psalm 55.

This devotional is about Exodus 7.

In verse 3, God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”

In verses 13 and 22 the Bible says, “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.”

Only spiritual stubbornness would allow a man to see God’s miraculous works over and over again without believing his messengers and letting his people go. In verse 5 God said that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that they didn’t know that he is the Lord long before that. The staff-to-snake miracle (vv. 8-12) and the Nile-to-blood miracle (vv. 14-22) seem to me like very convincing proofs. Yet Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. Why? Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v. 3) and because his heart became hard(er) (vv. 13, 23).

When God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he did not “create fresh evil” (as one of my seminar professors used to say) in Pharaoh’s heart. Instead, he allowed Pharaoh to deny the implications of what he had seen and refuse to believe that God’s hand was behind these miracles. We see that in verse 14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go.’” The word “unyielding” helps us understand what was happening in Pharaoh’s heart in this chapter. God was showing him many convincing proofs but he would not yield to those proofs by admitting that YHWH was real and more powerful than he was. So when God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, he allowed Pharaoh to choose unbelief. Instead of sending the convicting power of the Spirit to soften Pharaoh’s heart, God allowed Pharaoh to respond to these miracles however Pharaoh wanted to respond to them. And, the way that sinners want to respond to God’s work is with unbelief.

This is why unbelievers can reject Jesus Christ even though they see God answer prayer or admit that they believe in life after death or realize that they have no explanation for the existence of sin. Without the convicting power of the Spirit, nobody would ever believe God and submit to his Lordship.

This is why we have no right to be proud about our faith. Your faith in Jesus is not the result of some clever insight you had to believe the gospel; it is the result of God’s gracious work in your heart by his spirit, softening your heart to respond in faith to the gospel.

It is also why you and I must pray for God to work in the hearts of unbelievers when we sow the seeds of the gospel. Unless God softens the heart, the ears that hear his word will reject it.

Are you thankful for God’s grace that softened your heart to trust in Jesus? Are you praying for his work in the hearts of others around you so that they, too, will recieve the gospel message?