Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13

Read Joshua 24, Jeremiah 13.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 13:1-11.

One summer a few years ago I was assembling something in our backyard for my kids. Somehow I left my tools out in the yard. They remained outside in the yard for the entire fall, winter, and spring. I found them late in the spring when I went to put something else together out there. Most of the tools I left are still usable; they’re rusty, but still usable and I think the rust can be cleaned off. But some of them are now useless.

In the opening verses of Jeremiah 13, the prophet is told by the Lord to go buy himself a snappy new belt and wear it around (v. 1). Wouldn’t it be cool if the Lord told you to go buy some new shoes or a new shirt or even a new belt?

Except that he only got to wear it for a little while. Then the Lord told him to go geocache it in a rock crevice. (“He hideth my belt in the crevice of the rock…..”)

Anyway, when he retrieved the belt “many days later” (v. 6) it was “ruined and completely useless” like some of my tools are. Goodbye snappy new belt; I hope the Lord let him replace it from his ministry funds….

Anyway, if you’ve ever lost something and then found it ruined, you can relate to what Jeremiah experienced in this passage. This is how God felt about his people. He proudly put them around his waist so to speak but they ruined their utility by “the stubbornness of their hearts” through idolatry. Now, they were useless for what God wanted them for, namely, “to be my people for my renown and praise and honor” (v. 11).

It’s OK to say someone is “useful” these days, but it is not acceptable to say that someone “used” someone else. Being “useful” is voluntary while being “used” usually indicates someone is being manipulated without realizing it or that they are appreciated not as a person but only for what they can do for someone else. In other words, being “useful” is a compliment while being “used” is degrading.

When God says that his people are useless, however, like a rotten belt, it is not degrading his people. It is not degrading for something to do what it was created to do. I am “using” this keyboard and computer to write this devotional. If the keyboard and computer had feelings, they would not feel degraded but grateful that they had been useful.

So it is with us. God created us to glorify himself. Israel–and all of us in the human race, actually–degraded ourselves by giving ourselves to sin instead of being useful to the purpose of glorifying God. When, by faith, we love and serve God we are useful to him. When his people “Give glory to the Lord your God” (v. 16) we are doing what he created us to do and that is the greatest form of satisfaction. God graciously brings “light” (v. 16e) and joy to us when we give him glory through obedience. When life is dissatisfying, it may be because we are serving idols rather than giving glory to God.

Is your life useful for God’s purpose? Are you living in a way that might be degrading your usefulness for the Lord?

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 7

Read Joshua 14-15 and Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 3

Read Joshua 9 and Jeremiah 3.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 3:11 (NIV): “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In this chapter God compared his people to a wife and their idolatry to adultery. The wife imagery was a better analogy when Israel was one nation because, of course, God made his covenant with one nation not with two. After Solomon, however, the nation of Israel became two nations governed by different kings. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Israel had 19 kings after Solomon and Judah had 20 kings. None of Israel’s 19 kings walked in the ways of God but eight of Judah’s 20 kings did to some degree or other.

Because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the most wicked, they came under the covenant curse first. The Assyrians invaded their land and carried them off into exile. Here in Jeremiah 3:8 God compared the Northern Kingdom’s exile to divorce; verse 8 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

The Southern Kingdom had some good kings, as I mentioned, so they remained a free nation for longer than the Northern Kingdom did. Given the 8 good kings Judah had, it is surprising to read in verse 11 that, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” In what way was Israel “more righteous” than Judah?

That question was answered in verses 8b-10 which say, “‘Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord.” In other words, Judah saw God keep his promise and punish Israel but they did not genuinely repent and turn to the Lord. Instead, they made religious gestures rather than sincere worship. Israel was “more righteous” then because Judah had more truth, more information, yet they still rejected God. Their idolatry was more deliberate; they chose to follow the same path as their “sister” Israel despite the negative consequences it brought to the Northern Kingdom.

There are three ways to learn moral and spiritual truths: (1) Believe God’s revelation. (2) Reject God’s revelation and figure it out for yourself by receiving all the consequences God’s word promised for those who reject his word. Or, (3) notice the experience of others–either the blessings they receive by faith or the curses they receive for disobedience, and choose accordingly. Judah had the Temple and the priests and scribes and God sent them prophets, too, so option (1) was there for them. They saw the devastation that Israel’s disobedience brought so they could have learned using option (3). Nevertheless, they chose option (2) and paid the price for it. A wise person–in the Proverbs sense–will receive God’s instruction (option 1) and will also notice how his word is fulfilled (option 3). We are fools when we go our own way, proving God’s word when we receive the pain and misery that sin brings. And, as verse 11 suggests (and Jesus also taught) we are worse (and receive greater condemnation) when we have God’s word and reject it than those who sin but have little to none of God’s truth.

Is it possible that right now you are considering a sin, playing with a sin that you’ve seen others commit? Will you learn from their experience to trust God and follow his ways, even when the attraction of sin is strong?

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV): “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

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.

Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law.

False conclusion number 2 would be true but it is impossible because of conclusion number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people–no matter how minor they seem to us–would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word.

Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people–Old or New Testament–have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

Deuteronomy 29, Isaiah 56

Read Deuteronomy 29 and Isaiah 56.

This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Everyone wants to feel optimistic about the future. Because there are always problems and struggles in this life, many people hope that things will be better in the future. There is a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell you that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • Similarly, they are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark… lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep” (v. 10). Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders is what they teach which Isaiah gave us in verse 12c-d, “tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesy better days to come. Their intention is not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message. When someone speaks for God but prophesies prosperity and hope only, with no discussion of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get in our church but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence you hear. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of hope through the death and resurrection of Christ. The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.

Deuteronomy 19, Isaiah 46

Read Deuteronomy 19 and Isaiah 46.

This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13). The purpose for this revelation was (1) to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12), (2) to teach those who would read this later during that judgment not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1), and (3) to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” This rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong stick because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.”

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e). Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Deuteronomy 17, Isaiah 44

Read Deuteronomy 17 and Isaiah 44.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 17:2-7.

Do you believe in the death penalty? I do; God established it as the first principle of human government in Genesis 9:6 which says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Prior to this revelation, God dealt directly with human sin; he confronted Cain directly after Cain killed Abel and he sent the flood during the days of Noah to punish the world for its wickedness–violence in particular (see Gen 6:11).

So, the death penalty, aka capital punishment, is a biblical method of dispensing justice. But is the way we practice capital punishment here in America biblical? If you think so, perhaps today’s scripture reading will be enlightening to you.

God’s law commanded death for a number of moral infractions. In this chapter it was for idolatry (vv. 2-4) but the conditions for imposing the death penalty spelled out in this chapter would apply in any death penalty case. And what were those conditions? They are simple:

  • There must be two or three witnesses who testify against the accused.
  • Those witnesses must be the first people to use the lethal weapons that would kill the person they accused.

Those are simple conditions but they require a very high standard of proof. Two or more witnesses to any crime would be extremely difficult to find. The judge who listened to the case against someone would question and cross-examine them to be sure that their story was consistent and, therefore, true. Any serious inconsistency would be a reason to acquit the accused. This two or three witness standard is higher than our nation’s “reasonable doubt.” It would be difficult to convict anyone except for the most unapologetic sinner.

Furthermore, those who accuse a person must be “the first in putting that person to death.” If you were called as a witness in such a case, would you think more carefully about your testimony if you had to be the person who threw the switch to the electric chair, or had to push the plunger on a needle administering lethal injection? What if we required the jury that convicted a person to administer the death penalty? What if we made the police officers who investigated and arrested a person be in a firing squad to kill that person when he was convicted? What if he had to be the first to fire?

In our country, people are sentenced to capital punishment often by circumstantial evidence only. DNA evidence and programs like The Innocence Project have demonstrated that some convicts on death row, and others who were already executed, are not guilty. These cases are a serious miscarriage of justice and offensive to God who made us in his image.

So, yes, the Bible teaches the death penalty but it was to be used only in the clearest of cases and only after great care has been taken to ensure justice. As citizens, we should expect our lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, and the justice system to follow biblical protections when biblical capital punishment is in play. If you find yourself on a jury in a capital case, remember that God holds you to a greater standard of proof than the legal system does and act accordingly.

Deuteronomy 16, Isaiah 43

Read Deuteronomy 16 and Isaiah 43.

This devotional is about Isaiah 43.

In this chapter God calls his people to follow him. He promised his presence with them and urged them not to fear (v. 1). He said that he would preserve them through problems and trials (vv. 2-3). He told them he loved them (v. 4) and reminded them that they were witnesses to the world that he was the true God in opposition to other so-called gods (vv. 9-13).

Despite all of this grace, God bemoaned the fact that his people did not worship him (vv. 22-24). Instead of “burdening” God with worship, God told his people that, “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (v. 24). All of this demonstrates how deep our depravity is. God pours grace after grace, promise after promise on us; instead of smothering God with praise, thanks, and worship, we prefer idols and weigh the Lord down with our sins.

Thankfully, verse 25 reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is the most immediately important promise for us in this life. Despite the weight and enormity of our sins, God graciously forgives them all. And why does he do this? Because of his love? Yes, but in the immediate context he told us that forgiveness is granted “for my own sake.” It is part of the immutable nature of God to be compassionate and forgiving. When God forgives us, he doesn’t demonstrate weakness; he shows us the enormous strength of his character.

What is the worst sin you’ve ever forgiven someone for? What about the worst sin that God has ever forgiven for you? Does God’s forgiveness open your heart to him in thanks and worship?

Deuteronomy 13-14, Isaiah 41

Read Deuteronomy 13-14 and Isaiah 41.

This devotional is about Isaiah 41.

Verse 1 speaks to “you islands” and verse 5 also makes reference to “the islands.” Commentators say that the islands are a way of speaking about all the nations on the whole earth. If the islands are doing something against God, the argument goes, then the larger, more populous countries must have an equal antagonism against God, or worse. So this chapter challenges all the nations and people of the earth to a direct confrontation with God. As verse 1b put it, “Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.”

So how do the gods of the rest of the nations on earth fare against Israel’s God? Not well; according to verses 2-4, God has easily defeated the nations and their kings and, in verse 5, they fear God as a result.

Still, people don’t want to give up their false gods so instead of repenting, they redouble their efforts and try to psych each other up. In verse 6 they tell each other to “be strong” and in verse 7 the craftsmen who make idols encourage each other. Just to be on the safe side, they nail down their idol “so it will not topple” (v. 7e). Israel, on the other hand, has a special covenant with God (vv. 8-9) and, therefore, should not fear (v. 10). Their enemies will be defeated (vv. 11-12) because “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” This contest between the gods of every nation–including the islands–and God is no contest at all.

Although we are not Israel, we’ve been graced with Israel’s God as our God through adoption. The nations of earth are still every bit as hostile to God; their gods are still every bit as weak, too. Though the tides of politics and culture may have turned against us, God commands us not to fear. He is greater than all other gods; his plans cannot be foiled or defeated. So don’t let the hostility of unbelievers or of the world’s system in general scare you or wear you down. Trust in the Lord; lean completely on him. He will defeat his enemies and ours; we have nothing to fear.

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Read Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you” (v. 24).

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us.

Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?