Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 4.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat those enemies justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse–not better–in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God has appointed see no tension between trusting God by asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools–including weapons–so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

Genesis 6, Ezra 6, Psalm 6

Read Genesis 6, Ezra 6, and Psalm 6.

This devotional is about Genesis 6.

I don’t think that a greater contrast could exist between Noah and the rest of the world around him. Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (v. 9b) while the world around him was “…corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (v. 11). Regarding the rest of the world, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth” (v. 6) but “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” The contrast here is not subtle. God approved of Noah and was “deeply troubled” (v. 6b) about everyone else.

Although Noah was “righteous” “blameless among the people” and “walked with God” (v. 9b), he was not perfect. He “found favor” with God because of God’s grace, not because of his own righteous merits. As a man, Noah had a sinful nature like everyone else on earth. Apart from God’s favor, he would have been as wicked as everyone else and just as worthy of divine punishment. So God’s divine election of Noah is what is meant by the phrase “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Practically speaking, God’s favor came through divine revelation. God explained to Noah his plan to destroy everyone and everything (v. 13), commanded Noah to build a means of escape (v. 14), instructed Noah about how to do it (vv. 15-16), then made a promise–“my covenant”–to protect Noah and his family (vv. 17-21). Because Noah was a man who knew God and walked with him, Noah received God’s word by faith, believed God’s promise, and obeyed accordingly (v. 22).

The details of our lives are different, but the pattern is the same with every person who knows God. God chooses us, God reveals what he wills to us, God commands us to obey, promises to protect us if we do, then calls us by faith to act. We can apply this to our own lives. Every truth taught in Scripture is God’s gracious gift to us, revealing what he wills to do, commanding us to believe and obey it, and promising blessing to us after we do what he said.

Are you struggling with obedience to the Lord in some area of your life? I don’t mean building an ark, I mean receiving the truth from his Word in some area and obeying it? Understand from this passage that God’s commands are not burdens for us to bear through obedience; they are his means for blessing us. If we will trust the Lord and do what His word commands, we will receive the promises he makes. It’s guaranteed because it is backed by God’s grace.

Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, Acts 14

Read Numbers 6, Isaiah 31, and Acts 14.

This devotional is about Isaiah 31.

The Assyrian Empire dominated the Middle East 700 years before Christ. They defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel and scattered the people in those tribes away from the Promised Land. That was a direct result of Israel’s disobedience to God’s Law.

Although the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem remained in the Promised Land assigned to them, they were oppressed by the Assyrians and fearful that Assyria would defeat them as they had Israel.

Hezekiah was a godly king of Judah in many ways, be he also did some foolish things. His advisors urged him to create an alliance with the Egyptians but Isaiah pronounced a curse (v. 1: “woe”) on anyone who was looking to the Egyptians for military strength against the Assyrians. The reason for this curse is stated at the end of verse 1; they seek help from Egypt “… but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.” As mighty as the Egyptians were, they were not nearly as powerful an ally as the Lord himself was for Judah, if they would only trust him. “But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together” (v. 3).

God had promised to protect and defend his people and that promise is repeated here in Isaiah 31 (v. 4), but humans naturally seek human solutions to human problems rather than looking to God for supernatural or providential solutions to human problems.

You and I do this, too. We go Googling for the answer almost immediately when we encounter a problem, but often we forget God altogether or pray as if he won’t help us anyway. This passage reminds us to turn to God, claim his promises and call for his help when we face pressures and problems in our lives.

Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53

Read Numbers 5, Isaiah 30, Psalms 51-53.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

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

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

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

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). Specifically:

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

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

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

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Genesis 30, Esther 6, Matthew 21

Read Genesis 30, Esther 6, and Matthew 21.

This devotional is about Genesis 30. 

How do you get what you want? How do you achieve our goals if they depend on factors you can’t control?

That’s what Jacob and Rachel struggled with in this chapter of scripture. Rachel, to begin with, really wanted a baby (v. 1). Infertility can happen to a couple because of physical issues with the husband or the wife. In this case, though, we know the problem wasn’t with Jacob’s body because he was making plenty of children with his other wife, Leah.

Unable to conceive herself, Rachel begged her husband for help (v. 1). But Jacob wasn’t a gynecologist and, at that time, there were no medically-valid infertility treatments anyway, so he was frustrated in verse 2 that Rachel turned to him. Rachel came up with another idea which was to use her slave as a surrogate mother (v. 3). That plan worked (vv. 4-6), but sparked a baby war between Rachel and Leah (vv. 9-21).

Later in the chapter, Jacob was ready to leave town because he was not prospering financially by working for Laban. We see that in verse 30b where he said, “when may I do something for my own household?” Jacob and Laban brokered a deal that would compensate Jacob better for his work (vv. 31-36). But, rather than merely trusting God to bless his work, Jacob came with a superstitious way to try to tilt the odds of prosperity in his favor (vv. 37-42).

Ultimately, God did give Rachel what she really wanted–not a step-child but a son of her own (vv. 22-23, and another son later who is foreshadowed in verse 24). Note that, in verse 22, “God remembered Rachel; he listened to her….” In other words, it was prayer, not manipulative human schemes, that got Rachel what she wanted.

The book of James, chapter 4:2 says, “…You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” The human way to reach an impossible goal is to use devious, superstitious, manipulative, or other sinful means. 

The way of faith is to pray. Trust God, accept his yes or no answer, but ask him earnestly, repeatedly, sincerely for what you need or desire. Is there any desire or goal you have that you’re trying to use sinful human ways to achieve? Trust God and pray for it instead.