Joshua 16-17, Jeremiah 8

Read Joshua 16-17 and Jeremiah 8.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 8:7e-8: “But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord. “‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?”

Here God is mystified by the unnatural actions of his people. If they are his people, they should follow his ways. It should be instinctive, just like the instinct we have to get up when we fall down (v. 4) and instinct that birds have to migrate (v. 7). The instincts of “God’s chosen people,” however, was not to follow the Lord’s ways. Instead, their instincts were to pursue “their own course like a horse charging into battle” (v. 6e-f).

They did not know, however, that they were off course when it came to following the Lord. They thought they were doing well; verse 8a records them as saying, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord.” God’s response, however, was, “But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.” Their instincts were bad and their lives were off course because they didn’t know God’s word, even though they thought they did. And who was faulted in this passage for their ignorance of God’s word? The scribes: “…the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” This interesting phrase is not explained in Jeremiah’s prophecy. Did they intentionally change the manuscripts they were copying? Or is this referring to some kind of teaching material they wrote?

We don’t know. But, the point of this statement is that God’s people can be led astray when God’s word is distorted. Distortion can mean mistranslation, misinterpretation, miscopying or outright changing God’s word. It reminds us how important careful, faithful handling of God’s word is. Be careful, then, about who you listen to or who you read. When you pick up a book for spiritual nourishment, find out if the author is a capable and faithful handler of God’s word. Even if he or she is, be a believer who evaluates what you’re reading carefully.

Is what you’re reading scriptural or is it falsely handling God’s truth?

Joshua 1, Isaiah 61

Today, read Joshua 1 and Isaiah 61.

This devotional is about Joshua 1.

Joshua’s mission was not easy, but it was easy to understand: Take the Land! “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (v. 1-3).

To accomplish this mission, he did not need a stack of thick procedural manuals or a complicated plan. All he had to do was believe God and start attacking.

Yet, despite the simplicity of his mission, God commanded him to be a godly man as well as a faithful military leader. Verse 7 says, “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left.” To be faithful to God’s commands and obedient to God’s word, Joshua needed to be in word daily. Verse 8, therefore, says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua’s success as Israel’s leader was dependent on him becoming a faithful and obedient student of God’s word. As he learned and lived God’s word, God promised to make him successful.

The success God promised if Joshua was faithful was not a magic spell that reading the Word gave him. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the promises God had made in his word. Those promises for Joshua and for all of Israel were the blessings that would result from loving the Lord God. It was the cultivation of godliness, then, that Joshua needed foremost. He was a busy man leading all of Israel into warfare but he was never to be too busy to read God’s word and grow in his faith.

I know that you are busy raising a family, building a career or a business, learning a new skill or obtaining a degree. But do you make time each day to cultivate your walk with God? “Success” and “blessing” are different for us than they were for Joshua but God still promises blessing for learning and obeying his Word. James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” Whatever else you’ve got going on in your life, make time to walk with God. Read his word daily, pray as Jesus taught us to pray, worship weekly with us on Sunday and fellowship around the Word with your small group, too. These are the ways in which God administers his grace to us for our growth in Him. We must be obedient to what we learn, of course, but learning it is what leads to obedience. As Joshua 1:8 said, “…meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”

Don’t let a busy life be an excuse not to walk with God.

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11).

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read these words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory” (v. 19). And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

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 21, Isaiah 48

Read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

A few chapters ago, in Deuteronomy 17, we read about capital punishment and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him with rebellion in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be… um… executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “…all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people–representing the entire community–could take part together in the execution.

Now, because God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Deuteronomy 10, Isaiah 38

Read Deuteronomy 10 and Isaiah 38.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 10.

Moses’s history lesson ended here in Deuteronomy 10:11. The rest of the book will focus on teaching God’s laws again to this new generation and urging them to follow the Lord in faith and obedience.

To that end, Moses began with an exhortation to God’s people to follow the Lord wholeheartedly (vv. 12-13). Note that in verse 13 Moses said it was “for your own good” to fear, obey, and serve the Lord. Then in verses 14-22, he gave God’s people some reasons to follow God. These are all reasons based on God’s grace–grace that they had already received. Those reasons to follow the Lord are:

  • God’s electing love (vv. 14-19).
  • God’s miraculous power which he used on Israel’s behalf (vv. 20-21).
  • God’s preservation of Israel and how he prospered them with population growth despite being slaves in Egypt (v. 22).

As part of his discussion of God’s electing love in verses 14-19, Moses explained that despite God’s awesome greatness (v. 17), he is just and kind to those who are weak, specifically widows and foreigners (v. 18). Following God’s example, then, Israel was “to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Although few if any of us were literally foreigners like the Israelites were, it is also true that most of us were not very remarkable when God’s grace came to us in salvation. God was merciful and chose us even though we were ordinary or average at best. God’s compassionate nature toward the weak and exploitable as detailed in this passage should cause us to look out for and show compassion for the weak and exploitable people around us. We

have some ministries in our church, such as our benevolence offering which we receive on communion Sundays or our food pantry, where you can help people in need. But God wants us to develop an awareness of others around us who have these kinds of needs. Some needy people are obvious but many fit into the background of our lives, overshadowed by our own needs, problems, and concerns.

Let’s ask God to give us a greater perception of people who need help or someone to champion them in their plight. Then, as we see them, let’s do what we can to help. This is one way in which we emulate the grace and mercy of God our Father.

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?

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Read Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Psalm 125

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, and Psalm 125.

This devotional is about Isaiah 10:1-2.

America is not Israel and the promises God made to Israel do not apply to any nation at all in this age. However, all of God’s laws teach some kind of principle and many of those principles are morals that transcend all cultures and would apply in any nation. God’s justice, for instance, is an absolute standard. Any nation, therefore, is responsible to create laws that are just and apply those laws justly.

An example is here in Isaiah 10:1 which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” The word “woe” is an expression of deep agony and it often is used of the pain that will come to those who fall under God’s judgment. Verse 1, then, is saying that those who make unjust laws will cry out in agony when they fall under the judgment of God.

Verse 2 gives some examples of unjust laws that Israel had made. Those examples are:

  • depriving the poor of their rights (to private property, to fair and righteous treatment)
  • withholding justice from the oppressed
  • taking advantage of widows and the fatherless.

These are all groups who have been weakened in one way or another. Being weak made them easy to take advantage of. Unscrupulous neighbors could take their property, for example, without fear of retaliation. Just laws, however, would stand opposed to that kind of theft and a just judge would apply that law justly and award damages to the poor person who was oppressed and taken advantage of by a rich neighbor.

Our American legal system, in theory at least, protects the poor and the rich alike. Both can have their day in court and, all other things being equal, should have a judge who will apply the law impartially.

But we have our favored and disfavored groups in this country, too. Christian bakers and florists, for instance, seem to find themselves at a disadvantage in recent years in court when they are sued for refusing to be hired for a “gay” wedding. This is just one example; I’m sure you can scan the news and find others.

I wonder if it ever occurs to lawmakers or judges that they will give an account to God about whether or not they have governed justly? Again, we are not Israel but justice is an attribute of God’s character and he demands that all people with power use it justly. So God will hold unjust Americans responsible and they will know true “woes” when they stand before a holy God.

But this also applies to us. If you are in a position of leadership and show favoritism or practice injustice, God sees it and will hold you accountable. Since God is just, we his children by faith should strive to be just in all that we do. Woe to us if we refuse.

Show Mercy, Not Favoritism, as an Intentional Act of Faith

James 2:12-13: Show Mercy Not Favoritism as an Intentional Act of Faith

Favoritism breaks God’s law, therefore God will judge those who show favoritism. But is there any escape from that judgment? Find out in this message. 

This is message 18 in the series, Intentional Acts of Faith, a series about the New Testament book of James. It was developed by Pastor Brian Jones and delivered by Brian to Calvary Bible Church on Sunday, May 9, 2021.

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