1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3

Read 1 Chronicles 19-20, Jonah 3.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 19.

Chapter 19 began by describing the foolish decision of Hanun son of the Ammonites to insult and assault David’s delegation (vv. 1-4). That decision flowed from a cynical assumption about David’s motives (v. 3). We read about this incident back in 2 Samuel 10.

But there is more to think about in this passage than just the conclusion that Hanun did something stupid. There were reasons to be cautious about a foreign king sending a delegation like this. Years after this incident Hezekiah received a delegation from Babylon and he showed them everything. God said that they would eventually come back and take all Judah’s wealth. See Isaiah 39 and/or 2 Kings 20:12-19.

So Hanun could have been cautious toward the delegation David sent but open about an alliance between the two of them. Being “open but cautious” is a wise approach to many things in life. Hanun’s approach, however, made him “obnoxious to David” (v. 6). Most of us have probably provoked that kind of reaction in someone else during our lives. What do you do then?

Hanun compounded his stupidity by preparing for war. He hired fighters from other nations (vv. 6-7) and still was soundly defeated by David’s army (vv. 16, 18). His cynical response to David was costly but that cost was compounded by what he did after insulting David and his men.

What should he have done instead? He should have admitted his stupidity to David and begged for mercy. Proverbs 6:1-5 counsels us to beg to be released if we foolishly guarantee someone else’s loan but the advice Solomon gave there is equally applicable here: “So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter (vv. 3-5).

We’ve all done stupid things that made us obnoxious to others but how have you handled those situations after you realized how foolish you had been? Did you lie about the situation? Make excuses for your behavior? Try to shift the blame to someone else? Just try to avoid the person? Wage war (metaphorically, of course) when you were ill-equipped to win?

We should take ownership of our bad decisions and beg for mercy. It is the right thing to do and the wise thing to do. It is a hard thing to do because it will hurt your pride but better a wounded pride than a dead army.

Is there anyone out there who finds your obnoxious because of how you treated him or her? Humble yourself today and do everything you can to repair the situation.

2 Kings 19, Hosea 12

Read 2 Kings 19 and Hosea 12.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 19.

Yesterday we read that, after the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrians, the Assyrians made a play for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, too. At first Hezekiah tried to buy them off, but that was merely a temporary fix. The Assyrians returned and wanted total surrender, so they laid siege to Jerusalem, cutting off the food and water and urged the people to surrender.

Chapter 19, today’s reading, continued the story and told us that Hezekiah had a very simple response: he turned to God for help.

His first act was to show his complete humility and dependence on God (v. 1). Was it dignified for the king of Judah, one of David’s descendants, to tear his clothes and put on sackcloth? Of course not; Hezekiah was more concerned about the gravity of the situation than he was with maintaining his dignity.

Hezekiah’s second act of humility was to contact Isaiah and ask him to pray (vv. 2-4). Note that Hezekiah understood what was at stake. The Assyrians were not merely trying to defeat Judah in war; they were attacking Judah’s God as much as they were attacking Judah’s capital city (v. 4). Hezekiah suggested in his message to Isaiah that God might intervene because of the blasphemy spoken by Assyria’s commander. That’s key to understanding what happened later.

Isaiah responded to Hezekiah’s message with an encouraging word: Don’t be afraid of their blasphemy; this Assyrian king Sennacherib will abandon his siege when he gets concerning news from home (vv. 5-7). This prophecy through Isaiah began to be fulfilled immediately (v. 8), but Sennacherib did not leave the siege without petitioning Hezekiah—in writing—to surrender (vv. 9-13).

The demand to surrender led to Hezekiah’s third response to threat of the Assyrians: To pray directly to God for help (vv. 14-19). God responded through Isaiah with a direct answer to prayer (v. 20) and a prophecy of the downfall of Sennacherib (vv. 21-28). God’s words to Sennacherib were designed to assert His glory against the blasphemous boasts of the Assyrian king (vv. 21-26), then to make two direct promises.

The first direct promise was that Sennacherib would retreat because of what the Lord would do (vv. 27-28). The second direct promise was that Hezekiah and his kingdom would thrive again because of the Lord’s blessing (vv. 29-34). True to his word, the Lord defeated the Assyrians supernaturally (v. 35) causing Sennacherib to retreat as the Lord had prophesied (v. 36). Finally his own sons consipired against him and killed him (v. 37).

So Hezekiah was a simple guy; he had no grand scheme for defeating Assyria. He didn’t even try to muster an army to attack them. He simply humbled himself before the Lord, asked Isaiah to pray and prayed himself. Yet in his simple trust in the Lord there was great wisdom and great faith. Both his wisdom and his faith were tied to a deep belief that God was real, that what Hezekiah knew about God’s miraculous power was true, and that God was able if he chose to rescue Judah. Hezekiah’s prayer, though, was focused on God and his glory, not just begging God to fix the problem. His reason for asking for God’s help was simple: “Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

Do we care about that when we ask God to answer our prayers? Does it matter to us at all if God’s glory and fame are extended? Do we tie our requests to a desire to show more and more people that God is real? Or are we so myopically focused on our own problems that we never consider how God might be glorified by answering our request with a yes. If you look at the scripture’s teaching on prayer, you will see that what Hezekiah said in his prayer was exactly what God wants to hear. God wants our dependence on prayer to be about him and his glory. Whatever you’re praying for today, are you asking God to use his answer to you as a method to reach people for Jesus? That’s the kind of prayer God loves to answer with yes.

2 Kings 14, Hosea 7

Read 2 Kings 14, Hosea 7.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 14.

2 Kings 13 focused on the kings of Israel but here in chapter 14 our attention is directed to Judah again. In 2 Kings 12 we read about Joash, a 7-year old kid king (2 Ki 11:21) who turned out to be one of Judah’s best, at least as long as he followed the instructions of Jehoiada the priest (2 Ki 12:2). His life was cut short prematurely, however, when he was assassinated by some of the officials in his government (2 Ki 12:17-21).

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king. Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). In addition to worshipping the Lord, Amaziah saw to it that the men who conspired against his father received justice for their treason (v. 6). But Amaziah’s execution of this justice was in obedience to God’s word (v. 6). He also experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7). When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9). Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice. As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong. But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

2 Samuel 22, Ezekiel 29

Read 2 Samuel 22 and Ezekiel 29.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 22, which is nearly identical to Psalm 18.

In this Psalm, David praised God for the protection God gave him during his many years as a man of warfare. One of the things he praised God for was described in verse 35: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”

Undoubtedly David practiced wielding weapons of warfare. The boring hours and days he spent watching the sheep as a boy gave him plenty of time to practice his aim with a sling, not to mention the amount of harp-playing he did during those same days. After he defeated Goliath, he learned to handle a sword and a bow and arrow with lethal accuracy. All that practice gave him the skills that made people sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Sam 18:7).

Yet in verse 35 he praised God for training him for battle. Unlike the pride of the king of Tyre, whom we read about yesterday in Ezekiel 28, David was humble enough to realize that every skill and ability he had came from God. He cultivated that skill, yes, but God was the one who gave him the time and physical ability to practice and perfect that skill. As he sang God’s praises for protection, he also credited him publicly and worshipfully for the fighting skills he developed which enabled him to be victorious and avoid being killed in battle.

What is the one skill you’re good at–the one that friends of your wish they had and maybe even the one that provides you with a good living? Do you realize that skill is a gift from God and so were the time, the teachers, and the opportunities you’ve had to develop it? Do you take time periodically to thank God for that provision? Do you deflect praise from yourself to the Lord when others praise you for that skill?

2 Samuel 21, Ezekiel 28

Read 2 Samuel 21 and Ezekiel 28.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 28.

The tirade against Tyre that began in Ezekiel 26 continued into this chapter. The focus this time was on the king of Tyre (v. 2). God’s issue with him was his pride: “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god….'” His pride was based on his wisdom (v. 2i) and wealth (v. 4). These are related issues.

Tyre became a wealthy place because of its location on the Mediterranean sea. The people of Tyre used that location wisely by learning to navigate that sea and creating trade relationships with other costal towns. All of this is to their credit and God acknowledged that in verse 4 when he said, “By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself.” And, as verse 5 said, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth….” The king of Tyre sat atop all of this prosperity and all of it went to his head. Verse 5c-d says, “…because of your wealth your heart has grown proud.”

People who are intelligent and wise may become wealthy, but not always. Some people who excelled academically in school choose jobs in academia or government because those jobs feel safe. You can make a good living working for someone else but most wealth is created by working for yourself. Working for yourself, though, feels insecure and requires taking some risks. Those who make it and become wealthy, therefore, may use their wealth as a scorecard to inflate their own egos. “I took a chance on myself and look how well it turned out,” they may think, “so I must be smarter and wiser than most people.” Apparently the king of Tyre thought so much of his success that he ascribed to himself godlike qualities (vv. 2, 6). God, therefore, decided to douse him with a cold bucket of reality. The Babylonians, then, defeated Tyre just as they defeated the other nations around them.

Over and over again the Bible tells us that God hates pride and loves humility. A humble person can enjoy success and even wealth while realizing that (a) others contributed to one’s ability to generate wealth and (b) God ultimately decides who prospers and who does not. Someone once said that, “The world turns over every 24 hours on someone who thought they were on top of it.” The king of Tyre was about to find that out for himself. A humble, godly man like Job found that out, too.

Don’t follow his example. If you’re doing well, thank God for it and be a good steward of what you get.

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.

1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47

Read 1 Samuel 10 and Jeremiah 47.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 10.

Yesterday’s reading, 1 Samuel 9, began to tell us the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. Today’s reading, chapter 10, concluded the story.

Although chapter 9 verse 1 told us that Saul’s father Kish was “a man of standing” in the tribe of Benjamin, Saul himself displayed quite a bit of humility about his family. In chapter 9:20 Samuel asked Saul rhetorically, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul’s response in 9:21 was, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” So, while Kish himself may have been an elder in his town and a man with a good reputation, Saul did not think of his family or himself as particularly noteworthy—not in the nation of Israel or in his tribe.

Yet, here in chapter 10, we read that Samuel anointed Saul to be king (v. 1), then prophesied about a distinct series of events that would happen to Saul. These events would be unremarkable. Two men Saul knew would meet him and tell him that his father was worried about him (v. 2), three men would greet Saul and give him some bread (vv. 3-4), and “a procession of prophets” would encounter Saul (v. 5). After he met the prophets, the extraordinary thing in this prophecy would happen: Saul himself would receive a powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit and would prophesy and “be changed into a different person” (v. 6). Bible scholars refer to this event as the “theocratic anointing,” meaning that, in this event, Saul was receiving God’s power and God’s public confirmation that he was God’s choice to serve as king.

Samuel referred to these as “signs” (v. 7). They were designed to give a humble rancher like Saul the conviction that God had indeed chosen him to be king. Everything about 1 Samuel 9-10 indicates that Saul had no ambition to be anything more than a rancher like his father Kish. Although Saul was tall and good-looking (9:2), he did none of the campaigning and self-promotion that would indicate he aspired to any kind of leadership, much less to become Israel’s king. He was truly a humble man of the people.

After telling Saul he would experience these signs, Samuel told Saul he would have God’s favor in whatever leadership he exerted: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (v. 7). But Saul was to wait in Gilgal for seven days and then he would be unveiled publicly as Israel’s king (v. 8). Every sign that Samuel predicted came true (vv. 9-10) and Saul’s prophesying got the attention of everyone who knew him (vv. 11-13). After an unassuming re-entry to family life (vv. 14-16), Saul was publicly revealed to be the king by Samuel (vv. 17-21). Saul knew he was about to be revealed as Israel’s new king—all of Samuel’s prophesies had come true, after all—so he hid himself to avoid being chosen (vv. 22-24), once again showing the humility with which he entered the office.

The final demonstration of Saul’s humility in this passage was demonstrated in verses 26-27. Some men volunteered because God had given them the desire to serve Saul (v. 26) but others questioned and overtly disrespected Saul (v. 27a). Yet, Saul did not retaliate or insist on being honored as king; instead he remained quiet (v. 27b).

This passage demonstrates once again what God is looking for in a leader. Although Saul had some of the physical characteristics that mark human leaders (9:1, 10:23-24), he was not well-born nor was he ambitious or attention-seeking. The Bible tells us over and over that God opposes those who are proud but is gracious to those who are humble. This is a good quality for anyone who finds himself in leadership or aspires to leadership because leadership is about serving, not about being served.

Still, position can corrupt someone who starts out well (as we’ll see later in Saul’s life), so we should never assume that because we started out humble we will have God’s favor for our whole lives. Humility is such an elusive quality; as soon as you feel satisfied the you have it, the odds are good that pride has actually started to take root in your heart. Keep your eyes on God and remember that leading his people is an opportunity that he entrusts to the humble. Remember, too, that the humility that got you chosen for leadership is necessary to keep you constantly serving in the will of God rather than acting like someone who feels he deserves to be served.

Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 10

Read Joshua 20-21 and Jeremiah 10.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Here we are, ten chapters into the prophecies of Jeremiah and many more chapters to go. And what have we been reading? Condemnation of sin and predictions of judgment, mostly.

Chapter 10 here is no exception. God spoke to his people (v. 1a) urging them to stop following the idolatry of other nations (vv. 2-5, 8-11) and instead to fear God (vv. 6-7) the true God (v. 10) and creator of all things (vv. 11-16). So, verses 1-16 hit the “condemnation of sin” button pretty hard.

Beginning in verse 17, the “predictions of judgment” began. You might as well pack up and leave now (v. 17) because you’ll be leaving one way or the other (v. 18).

After all this, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord in verses 23-25. He did not ask God to reconsider his plan for judgment or try to make a case that his people were undeserving of God’s wrath. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to the will of God (v. 23) and asked God to use the coming problems as an act of discipline, not anger (v. 24). Finally, he asked for God’s wrath to fall on Israel’s enemies for their sins against God’s people (v. 25).

What strikes me here in this section (vv. 23-25) is the tender-hearted humility of Jeremiah. Despite being a faithful prophet of God and a godly man, he knew that this life was not perfect before God. Instead of asking God to focus on “the real sinners” out there first, he asked for God to bring the loving hand of discipline into his own life, breaking his will and his sin-patterns without personally breaking him apart (v. 24c). This is an attitude far from our natural inclination to feel that God has treated us unjustly if something unpleasant comes into our lives. It shows his reverence for God, a recognition of God’s absolute lordship over everyone (v. 23).

Is this the attitude you bring to your walk with God? Have you ever asked God to discipline you, to purge out from our heart and your life anything that displeases him? It is a scary thing to ask for because God’s discipline can be very painful. Yet, as a loving Father, we can trust him not to pulverize us as he does his enemies, but to deliver a healing wound, like a surgeon does. When the doctor cuts a person open to remove the cancer from his body, a painful wound results and, even after that heals, a permanent scar is often left behind. Yet we thank the surgeon for healing us instead of complaining about the wound and the scars.

So it is with our Lord. When he hurts his children, it is for our ultimate good, our spiritual growth, to strengthen us to live more holy lives. May we emulate the prayer of Jeremiah in those moments of pain.

Joshua 18-19, Jeremiah 9

Read Joshua 18-19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Remember a few days ago when God commanded the people not to say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (7:4)? That chapter was about the spiritual pride of the people. Because they believed that God was in their city, they believed they were invincible.

This chapter is much sadder; tears recur throughout its verses. The pride of Judah would quickly flatten like air being let out of an inflated balloon as the Babylonians conquered the city of Jerusalem, despite “The temple of the Lord!” within its walls. This chapter prophesies of a judgment that was still future to Judah when it was given. God calls them to stop lying to themselves about their exceptionalism and get serious about their true spiritual condition. Sin ran through Judah like blood runs through your veins; yet God’s people were proud. Therefore, God promised them, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (v. 11).

The only thing God allows us to be proud about is him. Verses 23-24 say, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me….” But this is not pride in their intellect or insight; only God can give “understanding to know” him and he gives it according to his will, to those who are humble and repentant, by his grace.

Also, note that just slapping God’s name on your beliefs is nothing to be proud about. Instead, the proper boast of the believer is in the knowledge of God as he truly is. Verse 24c-f says, “‘that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” Kindness is foreign to sinful hearts filled with hate. Justice and righteousness are foreign concepts to guilty sinners before a holy God. Only the grace of God can cause us to love and be proud of God as he really is. Once we know him, though, we have what we need to weather the problems of life, even if the strongholds we trust (“the temple of the Lord!”) are thrown down in front of us.

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Joshua 4, Isaiah 64

Read Joshua 4, Isaiah 64.

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 the 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, say 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). 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.