Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, Psalm 81

Today’s readings are Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, and Psalm 81.

This devotional is about Exodus 33.

There are frustrations that come with every responsibility in life–every job, every volunteer position, every relationship. One of the most frustrating things is not having what you need to do the job. If your job is to repair cars but the tools you use keep breaking or getting stolen, you’ll be frustrated.

Moses had one of the toughest jobs anyone ever had. God called him to it, so he couldn’t quit or evade responsibility. There were, by some estimates, millions of people looking to him for leadership, but many of them were complainers and others were uncooperative and disobedient.

In Exodus 32, Moses lost his cool and threw a fit when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. Now, here in Exodus 33, God told Moses that he was on his own. Verses 1-3 say, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised…. I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites…. But I will not go with you….” All of a sudden, Moses no longer had what he needed to do the job God called him to do. In verse 12, Moses explained his frustration to the Lord: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.’” What Moses said here was not really true. In verse 2 he said, “I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” Later, in verses 15-16, Moses stated the true source of his frustration: “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

So, God had promised the angel’s power to clear the Promised Land in verse 2 but Moses petitioned God not to send them to the Promised Land under that plan (v. 15). But why not? If God promised that the angel would go before them and win the battles for them, wouldn’t that be enough to do what God had told him to do?

Yes, of course it would be enough to complete the basic task but it would not be enough to build a godly nation. What Moses wanted for himself and for God’s people Israel was to walk with God: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (v. 13). That statement was pleasing to God because verse 14 says, “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

Greater than the promises of land and protection and provision, what Moses wanted was God’s presence. He wanted to know God and to be discipled in godliness by God himself. As the leader of God’s people, he had hard responsibilities to fulfill and needed the most powerful tool–God himself–to accomplish it. But what he wanted from serving God was not influence or authority or recognition. He wanted to know God himself: “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (v. 13).

Don’t crave the benefits God provides more than God himself.

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.

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 26, Proverbs 2, Psalm 74

Today’s readings are Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, and Psalm 74.

This devotional is about Proverbs 2.

The end of Proverbs 1 described wisdom as a woman wandering the streets offering her blessing to anyone who wanted it. Here in Proverbs 2, Solomon told his son that he, Solomon, could be the medium for wisdom. He wrote in verses 1 & 6, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you… then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

It has always been God’s plan to pass wisdom from parents to children. Since God is the source of wisdom (v. 6) and parents are commanded to teach our children about God and introduce him to our kids (see Deut 11:19-21), teaching our children about God and his ways also introduces them to God’s wisdom for guiding their lives (vv. 9-11). This wisdom, then, will steer our children away from sinful influencers, either men (vv. 12-15) or women (vv. 16-19). The result will be a blessed, morally successful life (vv. 7-8, 20-22).

The lesson for children is to listen to your parents and be obedient to their words. Our world mocks parents and acts as if they know nothing. But look at the lives of those who listen that kind of nonsense. Children may be more adept at technology and more savvy about what is popular but God gave you parents to keep you from ruining your life through sinful, stupid actions.

The lesson for parents is to teach your children about God. Our church offers children’s programs to assist you. But you can have an influence on them that the world’s greatest youth minister never can have. Believe it or not, your children respect you, want your attention, crave your insight, and want to be like you. So make the most of that! When they get older, they will be tempted to disregard your words and make their own decisions in foolish ignorance. This is why it is important to start leading your children spiritually when they are young. Parents can delegate many things about our children to others–coaches who can teach them to play sports, teachers who can instruct them about math or science, but you can’t really outsource their moral and spiritual instruction. So make sure to pray for your kids and to lead them to know God and his ways.

Exodus 17, Job 35, Psalm 65

Today’s readings are Exodus 17, Job 35 and Psalm 64.

This devotional is about Exodus 17.

The people of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt. They were oppressed and abused by the Egyptians, but at least the Egyptians provided for their needs. Now that God has liberated them, they have their freedom. But that meant their Egyptian overlords were no longer there to provide them with food and water and shelter.

In yesterday’s reading, they looked back with nostalgia on their time as slaves. In Exodus 16:3b we read, “in Egypt… we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” It seems like they were exaggerating how well the Egyptians provided for them but, faced with starvation and dehydration, the meager provisions of slavery seemed better.

Here in Exodus 17, Moses and the Israelites needed a miracle to survive. God provided that miracle through Moses (vv. 5-7) and then protected them from the attacks of the Amalekites (vv. 8-16). Before providing these things, however, God let Moses and the Israelites feel the crisis of their lack of water and food. Why?

One reason was so that the people would learn to depend on him. As a “free” people, they would need to learn how to provide for themselves. But God wanted them to know that they were not alone; he was watching over them to provide for them and bless them. These crises in the desert were designed to make God’s people look to him when they needed help, not to the Egyptians who had provided for them for so long.

These crises had another affect as well. Did you notice how God made a point in verse 5 of having Moses and the elders of Israel stand before the people? And, in the battle with the Amalekites, notice how Joshua was designated by Moses to lead the battle (v. 9) and then the Lord commanded Moses to make sure Joshua heard his commands about the Amalekites (vv. 14-15).

All of these things were designed to teach the people to trust the Lord and the leaders he chose for them. They were also designed to teach the leaders that God would be with them and make their leadership effective. Crises have a way of revealing what and who we trust and each one is an opportunity to relocate our trust in a godly direction.

Keep this in mind if you’re facing a crisis or if you encounter one soon. Is the Lord testing your faith and exposing whether or not your trust is where it should be? Use the moments of trial in your life to turn to the Lord in full dependence so that your trust is fully in him.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53

Today’s readings are Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53.

This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses, right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). This caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses started out very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in his voice when he said, “he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition fall like dominoes after our first act of obedience. Often, in fact, things get worse and harder before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways. So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.

Exodus 3, Job 20, Psalm 51

Today we’re reading Exodus 3, Job 20, and Psalm 51.

This devotional is about Exodus 3.

The early years of Moses’s life were like a fairy tale. He was saved from infanticide by Pharaoh’s daughter (but really by a resourceful mother) and raised in Pharaoh’s household. That gave him insight into the politics of Egypt as well as learning that would have been inaccessible to any other Hebrew boy.

When he was old enough to be a man, he tried to become a leader for Israel. As we read yesterday in Exodus 2, Moses killed an Egyptian who was abusing a Jewish man. Instead of causing other Jewish men to rally behind him as their leader, however, they simply gossiped about what he had done and put his life in jeopardy.

Now, after years in desert obscurity, God called him to be the leader he had attempted to be many years earlier. This time, however, Moses was unwilling. In this chapter we read excuse after excuse given by Moses to God’s command to him. The next chapter gives us even more excuses. This man who was once an enthusiastic volunteer for Jewish liberation now wanted nothing more than to stay in the desert with his family and be a shepherd in obscurity.

His reluctance to lead, however, shows that he was now exactly where God wanted him to be. Instead of leading out of personal self-confidence, he needed to be personally compelled and persuaded by God himself to do this important job. For the first time in his life, he was ready to be a spiritual leader, not just a political/military leader. Moses knew that he was incapable of doing what God called him to do. If he were going to be successful, he would need to be absolutely dependent on the power of God.

This is what each of us needs to live and lead for God everyday. Knowing our own incapability to do what God commands us to do, we must look to God for power, wisdom, and results. Drawing from Israel’s lessons of failure in the desert, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Trusting God means asking for his help and strength because we understand how easily we fall.

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23

Today’s readings are Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 13.

Nehemiah was a real jerk. At least, that’s how other people probably regarded him. He insisted on obedience to God’s word. When he found out that others were letting disobedience slide, Nehemiah reacted strongly and emotionally. Consider these incidents:

  1. When a priest allowed one of God’s enemies to have a big apartment in the temple, Nehemiah personally carried his belongings out and threw them on the front lawn (v. 8). When he found out that God’s servants weren’t being paid, Nehemiah called out the civic leaders and made them pay up (vv. 10-12), even designating some stand-up guys to be responsible for this in the future (v. 13).
  2. When he learned that non-Jews who lived in Jerusalem were selling stuff on Saturday (the Sabbath), Nehemiah “rebuked the nobles of Judah” (v. 17), stopped the city gates from opening so that nothing could come in for sale (v. 19) and threatened to arrest those who still came hoping to sell (vv. 20-22).
  3. When he found out that men of Judah had married foreign wives, he “rebuked them and called curses down on them… beat some of the men and pulled out their hair “(v. 25)!

Yep, he was a jerk if it was your hair that he was pulling out. The thing is, he had scriptural reasons for everything he did. He also had some anxiety about it. I say that because of these repeated statements:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services” (v. 14).
  • “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (v. 22b).
  • “Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (v. 29).
  • “Remember me with favor, my God” (v. 31b).

If you want to live a godly life, you will be forced to choose, at times, either (a) to say nothing in order to preserve your reputation and likability or (b) to speak up about sin and be thought a jerk. When Nehemiah asked God to remember him after these incidents, he is showing us the human side of doing what is right. He paid a price in his relationships in order to lead God’s people to obedience; but he did that because he believed in God’s word and trusted in God to reward him for doing the right thing.

Are you up to that? Have you been looking the other way when people sin around you so that people will like you? Nehemiah understood the pressure. I do, too; in fact, I wish I could say I was better and more consistent about showing the kind of moral leadership that Nehemiah showed. May the Lord help us all to be bolder in our stand for His commands.

[Probably not necessary to beat anyone or pull out his/her hair….]

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14. This devotional is about Nehemiah 4.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat them justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse–not better–in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God appointed see no tension between trusting God and asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools–including weapons–so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.