Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification tome to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

Numbers 35, Isaiah 27, Psalm 140

Read Numbers 35, Isaiah 27-28, Psalm 140.

This devotional is about Numbers 35.

Murder is one of the world’s oldest sins. Despite its antiquity, it remains as gruesome and painful for the survivors as it was when Cain killed Abel. Revenge is a natural reaction for the survivors of the one who was murdered, but sometimes people die due to accidents or negligence.

What is the just response in these cases? On one hand, the family of the one who died is still deprived of his or her life, so does it really matter whether their loved one was killed intentionally or unintentionally?

God says yes, it does matter.

He designated cities of refuge for those who killed someone unintentionally (vv. 6-13). That would keep the land of Israel from being dominated by violence and bloodshed anytime someone died under suspicious circumstances. But for those who committed murder—they killed because they intended to kill (v. 20: “with malice aforethought”)—the Bible prescribes capital punishment as the appropriate means of justice (v. 16b, 17b, 18b, 19b, 21b: “the murderer is to be put to death”).

Although many Christians are proponents of capital punishment, too many of us miss the limits the Bible puts on it. Verse 30 of our text says, “Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” That verse sets forth a very high standard of proof.

Often there are no witnesses at all to murder. If one person witnessed the murder, Moses’ law did not permit the killer to be executed.

A situation where two or more people witnessed a murder is highly unusual, yet that’s the standard of evidence the Old Testament law required before capital punishment could be administered. That is because human life is special; as human beings, we bear the image of God and have eternal souls.

It is deeply evil to take another person’s life but to do it as punishment without a strong standard of proof is reckless and often unjust. The Innocence Project has exonerated many people who were unjustly executed or wrongly convicted of murder. Today’s passage here in Numbers 35 suggests that capital punishment needs to be reformed here in America. While I believe that modern evidence like DNA matching or video surveillance can and should replace the standard 2 or more eyewitnesses required in this passage, the point of the eyewitnesses was to establish absolute proof of guilt before taking a man’s life.

If you support the death penalty from biblical conviction—and I do—your biblical conviction should also insist that anyone who is executed must have been convicted based on near certainty, not just “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To take an innocent human life in punishment is just as murderous and evil in God’s sight as first degree murder is.

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Read Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today’s reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice.

The first proverb is 24:27: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start to build a home of their own.

No one really wants to live with their parents and it’s more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word?

One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption.

Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence, God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, Psalm 78

Today’s readings are Exodus 30, Proverbs 6, and Psalm 78.

This devotional is about Proverbs 6:6-11.

Ants are disgusting creatures who have no business being in my house.

That said, they are remarkable workers. There are some time-lapse videos on the Internet that show how hard they work to break down large food items for their colony. Some of the items, like a grapefruit, are huge compared to the size of one ant. Working together diligently, however, they can pick the whole thing apart in a few hours.

Here in Proverbs 6:6-11, Solomon encouraged the “sluggard” to think about the hard work of ants. A sluggard is foolish because he his lazy. The first thing Solomon encouraged the sluggard to notice about ants is that they don’t need a boss. Verse 7 says that it “has no commander, no overseer or ruler.” This sounds like a dream life to many people; a life with no boss, no authority. If a lazy person had no one in authority over him, he would do nothing productive all day, day after day (vv. 9-10). An ant, however, “stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Each one works hard to provide for the colony even without a supervisor.

The point here is that the sluggard needs to learn how to be productive without external supervision or discipline. Many people will do nothing unless they are told to do it but a wise man will learn to work diligently without supervision to be profitable and prepared for the future. The foolish lazy man, by contrast, is warned that “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”

Many people are hardworking in most areas of life or lazy in most areas of life. Many of us, however, work hard in some areas while neglecting to work hard in other areas. We may be productive employees, even without much supervision, but we’re lazy about managing the money we make. Or perhaps we’re diligent about physical fitness but not about our spiritual lives. What area in your life should you apply wisdom to be more ant-like?

We would also be wise to teach our kids to be self-starters and diligent without supervision. These are essential skills for success in our world and very rare. Encourage your kids to work on that term paper for a little while every night instead of trying to do it all in one weekend or–worse–one caffeine-fueled all-nighter. It will serve them well all the days of their lives.

You might enjoy watching this brief video about ants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgtepw39NX4

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 73

Today we’re reading Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 73.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous—nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you….” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them….”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).