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?

Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

This devotional is about Psalm 107.

This song begins by inviting us to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and his eternal love and devotion to his people (v. 1). Verse 2 sets the theme for the rest of the song which is, “Who should give thanks to the Lord?” The answer is “the redeemed of the Lord” (v. 2). Verse 2 encourages anyone who has been saved by God to “tell their story” (v. 2a). Then the author gets into specifics:

In verses 4-9, the homeless who cried out to the Lord and received his provision should “ give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (v. 8).

Verses 10-16 describes those who lost everything due to the consequences of their own sin (v. 11). When they cried out to the Lord for help “and he saved them from their distress” (v. 13), then they should give thanks to him for his love.

Verses 17-22 talk about those who became ill to the point of death “through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (v. 17). Like the others, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave” (vv. 19-20). As a result, they should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 21).

Verses 23-32 is about those who do risky work. These sailors saw God’s immense power revealed in nature (vv. 24-26) and were nearly obliterated by it but when they called out to God, he rescued them (vv. 28-30). They, too, should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Verses 33-42 talk more generally about the acts of God for people. He provided prosperity for people (vv. 33-38) and brought recession and need into their lives (vv. 39-40) but ultimately he blessed those who needed him (v. 41). Verse 43 concludes by urging the wise to think about the loving works of God.

Everyone who knows God has seen him work in some way. It might be large and dramatic or it might be simple. It is easy to internalize these blessings or even to forget about them. This song urges us to go public and give praise to the Lord when he answers our prayers and rescues us from problems. So, what has God done in your life? Where has he met you when you were in a tough spot, had a deep need, feared for your life, or were trapped by the consequences of your own sin or foolish behavior?