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 4, Isaiah 32, Psalm 145

Read Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 32, and Psalm 145.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 4.

In this chapter Moses transitioned from surveying Israel’s recent history to expounding on God’s law. Verses 1-14 form the transitional paragraph. In verse 10, Moses called on the adults who were children at the time to “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” He reminded those who were there how terrifying it was to see the glory of God revealed on that mountain (vv. 11-13) and how God graciously stopped speaking directly to the people and, instead, mediated his word through Moses (v. 14).

In verse 15 Moses used the fact that God did not have a physical form to remind Israel of the fact that the Ten Commandments forbade them from making “for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape…” (v. 16). The rest of that paragraph (vv. 15-31) spelled out what would happen if Israel turned to idolatry. Israel’s history showed the complete fulfillment of what Moses described here.

Then, in verses 32-34, Moses called God’s people to contemplate world history. What God did for Israel, redeeming them as an intact nation from Egypt, was unprecedented. God did this, according to verse 35, to demonstrate the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). Everything God did for Israel was proof that he was the only true God; therefore, according to verse 39, Israel should “acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” With these words, Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments, which he will repeat in tomorrow’s reading in Deuteronomy 5.

Moses’s point is that God’s commands are not a burden to Israel; they are gifts from the only being in the universe who knows absolute truth. If Israel would only reverence the Lord for who he is and what he has done, then God’s people will see his commands as a blessing that leads to greater blessings.

You and I are not Jews. We live under a different covenant. God’s power was not demonstrated to us on a fire-filled mountain; it was demonstrated to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s commands to us have many similarities and many differences to Moses’s law and his commands to us come with the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, like Israel, we are called to believe God and follow him in faith and obedience to receive his blessings.

Does the Christian life seem like a burden to you or a gift? Are God’s commands a crushing load that you don’t want to carry or are they a path of liberation from bondage to sin and its consequences?

As believers in Jesus, we are called to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt 28:20). Since we believe in Jesus, we must also believe that obedience to his word will bring good, not harm, into our lives. So is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting the commands of God? Will you, by faith, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and follow him in obedience by faith?

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, Psalm 117

This devotional is about Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, and Psalm 117.

This devotional is about Psalm 117.

This song is so short, it’s like a chorus. The themes in it are not unusual. A call/command to praise the Lord (v. 1) followed by the reason for praising the Lord (v. 2) and finally one last call to “praise the Lord” (v. 2c).

What is unusual about this little song is its universal focus. Those who are called to praise and worship the Lord are not the people of Israel but “all you nations” and “all you peoples” without any reference to Israel at all. One might ask, “Why are all notions commanded to praise the Lord? God hadn’t revealed himself to them as he had to Israel nor had he entered into a covenant with them. Verse 2’s description of God’s great love (2a) and eternal faithfulness (v. 2b) are usually tied to his covenant with Israel. Here, Israel is not mentioned and all the nations/peoples do not have that kind of covenant with God. So why does the Psalmist command Gentile nations to praise God when they don’t even know him? And, in what way has God shown love and to these Gentiles?

The answer is that before man sinned God entered into what theologians call a “covenant of works.” That refers to God’s command to Adam to subdue and cultivate the earth and to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth” meaning to populate it with people. Although Adam and Even sinned and humanity fell from the original holiness God created us to have, we are still responsible to him as our Creator to fill the earth, subdue it, and populate it with people. So, whenever anyone in any culture, land, or ethnicity works to provide for himself, marries and has children, that person is showing that they belong to and are responsible for the covenant of works. And God, for his part, keeps his promise to make the earth productive and fruitful as man works and subdues it and to provide children.

The appeal to worship the Lord in this song, then, is based on the instinctive way in which people participate in the covenant of works. By working to provide for themselves and having children, people demonstrate that they do know God and that they are responsible to him. The Psalmist calls them to go all the way and give God the worship he deserves for faithfully providing food for people who work for it and faithfully providing children.

In our fallen state, we suppress what we know to be true about God and distort his moral will to fit our tastes. So we can’t worship the Lord apart from God’s grace to us in Christ. But this passage shows us that humanity is still responsible to worship and thank the Lord for his love and faithfulness because he is our faithful, loving creator.

The application of this passage for us is simple: our message, the gospel, is for Gentiles, too. So is God’s judgment for those who don’t turn to him in this life. So don’t give up if an unbeliever says to you, why should I believe God’s message? What has he ever done for me? The answer is that he provides you with food daily and consistently blesses your family with love. People may say that they don’t know God or can’t be sure of him but the truth is that they know plenty about God. They know that he is powerful, that he is perfect, and that we are accountable to him. That last sentence means that humanity knows enough about God to damn their souls for eternity. That’s why this Psalm calls out to everyone.

When we call out to others with the gospel, we are giving them the only method they’ll ever have to worship God, please God, and know him. That is the only way they’ll ever be able to worship God as he commands us to do. Don’t shy away, then, from sharing the gospel; it is the only enabling God has given us to obey his commands.

Exodus 19, Job 37, Psalm 67

Today’s Bible passages are Exodus 19, Job 37, and Psalm 67.

This devotional is about Exodus 19 and Psalm 67.

The Old Testament is largely about Israel and God’s relationship with her. From the call of Abraham onward, God promised blessings to Israel and called the people of that nation to believe in him and obey his commands. God’s promises and commands to Israel were not for Israel alone, however. God’s plan was to work THROUGH Israel to reach people all over the world with the knowledge of him.

Even here in Exodus 19, where God revealed his power and holiness in a dramatic way, he also emphasized the global impact that Israel’s faith was supposed to have. When God said in verse 6, “you will be for me a kingdom of priests” this is what he was talking about. Priests stand between God and humanity. They teach God’s word to his people and they make atonement for their sins.

But Israel was to be an entire kingdom of priests. Why? So that they could mediate to the whole world God’s love and God’s truth.

This theme is also described in Psalm 67 which we read today. Notice:

  • “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations (v. 2)
  • “May the nations be glad and sing for joy” (v. 4)
  • “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you” (v 5)
  • “May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him (v. 7).

Ultimately, these promises came to fulfillment in Christ. Israel could never trust and obey the Lord enough to inherit these promises apart from Christ. But, by God’s grace, Jesus came into the world through the nation of Israel and now he is calling people all over the world to the faith in him that Israel never had. These promises will eventually be fulfilled when Jesus establishes his earthly kingdom. Until then, however, we are here to be part of calling the world to faith in him. This is why we send and support missionaries; it is also why we are called to make disciples ourselves, baptizing and teaching them to observe the commands of Jesus (Matt 28:20).

Are you giving to support the work of the gospel through world missions–either our missionaries or others? Are you looking for ways to begin conversations about Jesus with others?

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Psalm 32

Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, and Psalm 32.

This devotional is about Esther 9-10.

There are good, godly men who don’t believe that God cares about Israel as a nation any longer. They believe that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The Jews that exist today, then, are just like any other race of people on earth. There are some who are elect and will trust Christ by faith to become part of the church just as in every other nation. But, to those who believe that the church has replaced Israel, there is nothing special about national Israel.

I do not believe that.

I believe that God’s covenant with Abraham remains and that there are promises he made to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. Those promises will be fulfilled by Christ and, when they are, then Christians and Jewish believers will be united as one people of God in eternity.

One reason I believe this is why Jewish people still exist with their ethnic identity in tact. Throughout human history, there have ben repeated efforts to extinguish their existence. You are aware of Hitler’s attempts to destroy the Jews and that they have enemies today, such as the PLO, who want to wipe them out as well. But these modern threats are only the latest. Here in Esther, we’ve been reading about how Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews from the earth. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, he placed Mordecai and Esther in Xerxes’s palace to thwart Haman’s genocidal intentions.

What’s so interesting about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned at all, not once in any form. And, Esther became queen through immorality (chapter 2) and neither she nor Mordecai are portrayed as believers in YHWH or adherents to Judaism as a faith. The closest reference we see in Esther to God or faith in him is when Esther asked the Jews in Susa to “fast for me” and said “I and my attendants will fast as you do” (Esther 4:15-16). That’s it! She doesn’t even mention prayer with this fasting; just the fasting.

It may be true (it likely is, actually) that Esther and Mordecai were believers. But the author of Esther does not say so or detail for us what their walk with God was like. The purpose of the book of Esther is not to laud these two people for their faith, but to show how God was faithful to his covenant regardless of whether any of the Jews were faithful to him. This book also shows us how God works sovereignly. There is not one miracle described in the book nor is there any divine revelation to help out the main characters. In the book of Esther, people acted rationally, with intention and in fear at times without any divine intervention or even any overt acknowledgement on God. And yet, God still worked in their everyday lives to save his people from being extinguished. God may not be mentioned directly in the book of Esther, but his faithfulness to his covenant and his care for his people are demonstrated on every page.

Israel today lives in unbelief. There are Jews, of course, who have embraced Christ as Messiah and become Christians like we are. But the nation we call Israel was politically created and is one of the most progressive (in the moral sense; in other words, “liberal”) nations on earth. Yet just as God protected and cared for his people in Esther, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, he is preserving his people and watching over them. There will come a day when they will turn to Christ in faith (see Romans 11 and most of the book of Revelation). Those Jews who die before that day will perish in hell just like any other person who does not submit to Christ in faith. But God is faithful and will make good on his promises to Abraham, David, and others.

For us, the lesson of Esther is to trust God. Things around us may look good at times; at other times, they may look bleak. God has ways of accomplishing his will even through unbelievers and he will do it. So hope and trust in him, not in people, governments, programs, or anything else.