2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, Mark 14

Read 2 Samuel 14, Daniel 4, and Mark 14.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. That person may assume that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it.

The opposite is often believed, too; namely, that the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27). 

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experience humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”

Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they deserve? That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak.

Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 46, Mark 10

Today read 2 Samuel 7, Ezekiel 46, and Mark 10.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 7.

Once he was crowned king over all Israel, David moved systematically to centralize Israel as a real kingdom. He took over Jerusalem from the Jebusites whom his tribe, Judah, had failed to dislodge. This was an act of obedience to the conquest command given to Joshua. It was also strategic; Jerusalem was a difficult city to defeat because it was built on a hill and surrounded by mountains. It was, therefore, an excellent capital city, which is what David did with it.

After securing a capital city for the kingdom, David consolidated worship in the capital by moving the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Now, here in 2  Samuel 7, David is settled for the first time in his adult life (v. 1). Given how much time he spent “roughing it” as a shepherd, then as a soldier, palatial life must have taken some getting used to. Also, given his heart for God, David must have visited the tabernacle often; some of his Psalms suggest as much. There must have been a big visual disconnect between the beauty of his newly completed palace and the tent that served as the Lord’s dwelling place on earth. In verse 2, David explained to Nathan the prophet how he was feeling about this and, in verse 3, Nathan gave him the go-ahead to build a temple for the Lord.

Nathan’s instincts were correct; David wanted to do something unselfish for God as an act of worship, so there was no moral reason to forbid him from building a temple. But God had other plans, so although David’s plans did not violate God’s moral will, they were not part of God’s sovereign will for his life. Nathan learned this in a dream as the Lord spoke to him (vv. 8-17). 

Notice how tenderly the Lord spoke to Nathan about his will. First he told Nathan to remind David that God had never commanded Israel to build him a permanent temple (vv. 5-7). Second, God reminded David that he chose him from a lowly position as a shepherd to become the king of Israel (v. 8). He also reminded David that he had prospered David in everything he did (v. 9a). 

Now God promised David greatness (v. 9b) and peace (vv. 10-11a) during his lifetime. Then, in verses 11b-16, God spoke about what would happen after David’s death. First of all, God would establish his son as king (v. 12) and would use his heir to build the temple that David desired to build (v. 13). Then God promised to love David’s son with permanence (vv. 12-15). Unlike Saul (verse 15), God would not remove David’s son as king, though he would discipline him when he sinned. Finally, in verse 16, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

These promises, taken as a group, are called “the Davidic Covenant” and it is one of the key covenants for understanding the Old Testament. The promise that David’s throne “will be established forever” (v. 16) foreshadowed the coming of Christ, the final Davidic king who will restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) and rule over it forever. This covenant with David is why both Matthew and Luke were careful demonstrate that David was an ancestor of Christ. 

When the book of Revelation describes Christ establishing his earthly kingdom in the future (Rev 20-22), it is this promise to David that Christ is fulfilling. The great thing about God’s grace is that Gentiles like us can be included in this promise by faith in Christ. This was always God’s plan as demonstrated way back in the Abrahamic covenant: “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3b).

Christ began the fulfillment of these promises; when everyone he means to saved has come to know him by faith, the process of ending the kingdoms of this world and replacing them with the eternal kingdom of Christ will begin (2 Pet 3:1-15, Rev 11:15). This is the message that we deliver in the gospel: Trust Christ by faith and God will include you in the kingdom that Christ will establish. This is the hope that we wait for (Titus 2:13). The Bible constantly reminds us not to forget that Christ is coming to establish his kingdom; it holds forth this hope to us not only to encourage us (1 Thess 4:17-18) but also to stimulate us to live for eternity instead of living for the sinful pleasures or the temporary comforts of today (2 Pet 3:13-14). So let the promises to David that read about today guide you and help you to live for Christ, our Davidic king, this week.

Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, Psalms 93-95

Read Judges 18, Ezekiel 7, and Psalms 93-95.

This devotional is about Psalm 95

Psalm 95 encourages us to lift our voices joyfully to the Lord. Verse 1-2 invites us (“Come…”) to “sing” and “shout.” Verse 2 calls us to “come before him” and “extol him.”

Why? Because he is the Creator and his creation is magnificent. Verse 3 tells us he is the great God and king above all. Verses 4-5 tell us that “the depths of the earth”–places that, to this day, humanity has not seen–are “in his hand.” Think about the massive amount of water in the world–over 300 million cubic miles! But God holds them in the palm of his hand, like the splash of water you put in your hand to rinse your mouth after you brush your teeth. That’s how great our God is.

But, that’s not all. The highest peaks of the mountains on earth “belong to him,” as does the sea and all the land on earth. So the first reason we should sing and shout and praise God joyfully is that he is the creator.

After all the noise of worship described in verses 1-5, the song that we call Psalm 95 turns more quiet, more reverent. It invites (again, “Come”) us to “bow down in worship and kneel before the LORD” (v. 6). The reason this time is that God watches over and cares for Israel, “the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” Like a conscientious shepherd, then, God watches over his people, making sure that not one of us is lost for all eternity.

But, we have a responsibility, according to verses 7d-11, which is to “hear his voice.” Jesus told us that the sheep know the shepherds voice and follow him. But what if we tune out God’s voice? What if we refuse to listen and follow our shepherd-Lord? Then we are like Israel during the desert wanderings after their exodus from Egypt. When the song writer referenced Meribah and Massah in verse 8, he was calling our attention to the events of Exodus 17. That’s where the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and God due to the lack of drinking water, so God commanded Moses to strike a rock with his rod and water poured forth. The point of this section is to remind us that God wants good things for us and will provide for us but we must trust him and not complain to him. When we harden our hearts and turn deaf ears to his voice, we show ourselves to be unbelievers, sheep not of God’s flock. Therefore, the rest that God promises will never be ours (v. 11).

If you know the Lord, you will love the Lord. You will want to sing his praises and bow reverently before him. You will listen when he speaks in his word and be eager to follow his commands.

Is that the state of your heart and your life? Or are worship, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching things you’d rather avoid or that you just endure? If it is the latter, you need to be saved.

Listen to the voice of the shepherd-Lord who watches over us. Hear his voice and follow his commands.

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Matthew 13

Read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Matthew 13. This devotional is about Matthew 13.

The Parable of the Soils and Christ’s interpretation of it takes up most of this chapter of Matthew, from verse 1 through verse 23. In addition to that parable, we have:

  • The Parable of the Weeds (vv. 24-30, 36-43).
  • The Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 31-32).
  • The Parable of the Yeast (v. 33)
  • The Parable of the Buried Treasure (v. 44).
  • The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (vv. 45-46)
  • The Parable of the Dragnet (vv. 47-50).

The Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Dragnet have the same message–many people who look like they belong in Christ’s kingdom and think they belong in it will be excluded from the kingdom at the judgment (vv. 40-43, 49-50).

The Parable of Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price also have the same message and it is the one I want us to consider today.

These parables are straightforward: a man finds something valuable but under-appreciated so he liquidates everything he has–his house, his farm animals and equipment, his wife’s jewelry, the fillings in his teeth if necessary–to buy the valuable treasure or pearl of great price.

And he does it “with joy” (v. 44)!

Wouldn’t it be a pain to get rid of everything you own and be homeless with just the clothes on your back? Yes, it would, unless you were going to get something of greater value than all of that stuff.

This is what Jesus said the kingdom of heaven would be like. It is so priceless, such a treasure, that you and I should give up everything to get it. Of course, the cost of the kingdom is not paid to God. God paid the cost for your entry into the kingdom in Christ because you and I could not do it ourselves.

No, the cost Jesus is referring to here is the cost of not going our own way and doing our own thing. If someone gave you an all-expenses paid trip around the world for one year, the trip is a free gift. But to experience that gift you’d have to quit your job. You might have to sell your house because you wouldn’t have any income to pay the mortgage, maintenance, taxes, etc. You would also pay a non-financial cost of missing out on things at home while you are gone.

This is what Christians “pay” for following Christ. When we receive the free gift of salvation, we give up the right to direct our own lives. Jesus is now the boss; he decides what morals we live by and his kingdom dictates the decisions we make with our lives.

His lordship is what leads some people to literally sell everything and move to a different city or a foreign country to start churches. They understand the value of the kingdom and the joy and rewards that await, so they are less focused on accumulating some material things in this life and more focused on serving Jesus in this life in order to benefit the coming kingdom of Christ.

Maybe God has put a desire in your heart to serve him in some way, but the cost of doing so seems high. You know you’ll lose some free time that already seems in short supply. Or, you know that it will cost money or that you won’t advance in your career or whatever.

Christ here calls us to consider what is truly valuable. His kingdom, his work, is so much more valuable than the cheap plastic trinkets that seem so valuable to us now. Let’s take a few moments and re-assess what we’re living for, what is important, what is worth investing in, and what is worth liquidating for the greater value of serving our Lord Jesus Christ.

Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, Matthew 12

Read Genesis 17, Nehemiah 6, and Matthew 12 today. This devotional is about Matthew 12.

God’s intention for the Sabbath was that man would take a day off from the way that he normally makes his living. It was to be a day of rest and a day to reflect on God, our Creator. So farmers would not plant, weed, water, reap, or do any of the normal activities that farmers do Sunday through Friday. The same was commanded for their wives and children and servants; everybody was supposed to get a break from their normal daily schedule.

This law was clear enough that it could be applied easily to most situations. Don’t farm your land, or fix your equipment, or type up those invoices, or make a fancy meal, or clean the house, or do the laundry. It was a day to rest, not to catch up on chores–work or personal. Do what needs to be done but keep it simple so you get a break and feel rested for a change. That’s the idea.

The problem with broadly-applicable commands is that it is not always clear how they should be applied. Obeying the command, “Do not work on the Sabbath” depends on how you define “work.” Is it work to make your bed? Tie your shoes? If you were a milkman who delivered milk by walking from house to house, that would clearly be forbidden on the Sabbath. But what if the milkman’s wife wanted to go for a long walk for recreation? Is that forbidden? The Pharisees hated ambiguity so they wanted every possible application of every law spelled out clearly. They specified how far someone could walk on the Sabbath to keep the milkman or his wife from doing “work” accidentally. This is one aspect of legalism.

Speaking of legalism, what exactly is it? It is a term that can be applied to at least two kinds of situations: First, anyone who thinks they can do good works to merit favor with God is a legalist. Second, anyone who thinks that his or her application of the Bible has the authority of the Bible itself is a legalist.

The Pharisees were legalists in both senses. They believed that their obedience to the law gave them favor with God. They also believed that they ways in which they applied God’s laws were as authoritative and binding as the law itself. That’s what’s going on here in Matthew 12:1-2. The disciples were not farmers. They were not working to earn a living by reaping. Instead they were getting a snack from someone else’s farmland. Taking small amounts of food from someone’s farm was allowed in God’s Law, so the Pharisees did not accuse the disciples of stealing. Instead, they accused them of working on the Sabbath. Because they applied the Sabbath law to any kind of reaping at all, they concluded that the disciples were doing what was “unlawful on the Sabbath” (v. 2b).

Elsewhere in the gospels we learn that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for distorting God’s intentions. The Sabbath law was supposed to be a blessing from God, not a burden. It was God imposed a day off on everyone so that everyone could enjoy life for at least one day a week. By denying the right to snack on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were making the Sabbath something unpleasant instead of enjoyable. Their legalism was not an obedience that pleased God, it was a burden that robbed people of the joy he wanted them to have.

Here in Matthew 12, however, Matthew records a different emphasis of Jesus regarding Sabbath violations. Jesus pointed out ways in which people broke the law technically but they did so in a way that upheld the law’s intention. The first example Jesus cited was from David (vv. 3-4). He and his warrior-companions ate the temple show bread which was against the law, yet they were not condemned. The reason was that they were servants of God doing God’s work, just like the priests were. So, technically they broke the law but by taking and eating the bread, they were being served by the law’s intention–to provide for God’s servants. Likewise, the priests on the Sabbath were technically in a no-win situation. The temple duties allowed no Sabbath breaks for the priests but the priests made their living being priests. So, they were not allowed to let the temple activities lapse even for a day, but that required them to do the normal work of priests–a technical violation of the law. Yet Jesus said that “they are innocent” (v. 5b). Then Christ took things further; not only were the disciples not guilty of breaking the Sabbath by picking up a snack, Christ himself asserted the right to rule or overrule anything regarding the Sabbath because he was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He then pressed the issue further by healing a man deliberately on the Sabbath day to show his lordship over it (vv. 9-14).

The Pharisees’ zeal about the Sabbath wasn’t really about obedience to God; it was about control. They wanted to define everything so that there was complete uniformity; no ambiguity or exceptions were allowed. They could, then, define who was right with God and who wasn’t based on how well or how poorly everyone kept the rules.

Unfortunately, we sometimes do the same things. The “good guys” never wear denim on Sunday, or use the right translation of the Bible, or only buy American, or never listen to music that has a beat to it. But these (and other) rules are at best only applications of Biblical principles, not Biblical truths themselves. The Bible teaches us to accept each other in areas where there are genuine disagreements about application (Rom 15:7). You should never use someone else’s actions to justify doing something that your conscience bothers you about. And, if you are truly concerned for someone else’s spiritual life, I think it is good to humbly approach them to talk about how they are or are not applying a scriptural command. But let’s be careful not to judge and condemn each other based on our own man-made rules. Instead, each of us should submit ourselves and our actions to the Lord of everything–including the Sabbath–and do what we think is right in his sight based on the clear teachings of scripture.

1 Kings 22, Daniel 4

Read 1 Kings 22 and Daniel 4.

This devotional is about Daniel 4.

People who have been highly successful face the temptation of taking too much credit for their success. The assumption for that person is that people pretty much get what they deserve so, since that person is successful he must deserve it. The opposite is often believed, too; namely, the unsuccessful deserve their failures so the successful and powerful should feel no pity toward the “losers” of life, nor should they feel bad if they oppress them. If they weren’t such losers, they’d figure out how to avoid being oppressed, the successful oppressor thinks.

What does the successful person think he has that gives him such a large advantage over others? Often, he believes in the superiority of his own intellect.

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar is warned about becoming proud of his success. His warning came at a time when he was “contented and prosperous” (v. 4b). The good feeling he had about his life faded quickly, however, after he had a disturbing dream that he did not understand (vv. 5-7). God gave Daniel the interpretation (vv. 8-26) and Daniel delivered the Lord’s message that the dream was a warning against Nebuchadnezzar’s sins (v. 27).

A full year later, the fulfillment came and Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and, temporarily, his kingdom (vv. 28-33). This experienced humbled Nebuchadnezzar (vv. 34-35) just as God said (v. 32, 37). The ultimate lesson is that God hates pride and often chooses to humble the proud in order to demonstrate his sovereignty and lordship.

But notice what Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar to do after he received the vision but before it was fulfilled. In verse 27 Daniel told him, “Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.” Did you notice that phrase, “by being kind to the oppressed”? Remember I stated earlier that the successful, the proud, often think they deserve their success because they believe that people get what they.deserve. That feeling of entitlement causes the powerful to oppress the weak. Daniel’s advice, then, was to show true repentance by showing kindness to the oppressed. When one is truly humble, that person treats everyone with dignity. He doesn’t “kiss up and kick down” as the saying goes. Instead, he is kind to everyone, especially those who need kindness the most.

Do you believe that you deserve the life that you have? Is it impossible to believe that you could be homeless, family-less, unloved and living on the streets? I have been told that many people who live that way are mentally ill, just as Nebuchadnezzar was in verse 33. Yet how often do we see people begging and wonder if they really “deserve” our help?

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 7:19c-h: “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath. It will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs, for it has caused them to stumble into sin.”

Lack of money can create problems such starvation, inability to get healthcare, or homelessness. Almost as bad, the fear of those things happening if you run out of money can make life miserable before the problems even arrive.
On the other side of the …um… coin, there is a certain amount of security that comes from having money. If your car breaks down, it is annoying to have to lay out the money to get it fixed but at least you have the ability to get it fixed. If your car breaks down and you don’t have enough money to get it fixed, then you might have a hard time getting to work, which can cause you to lose your job, which could lead to being evicted from your home.

So, yes, it is better to have money in most situations in life. The Bible acknowledges this fact. Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter….” It can shelter you from many problems in life.

But it can’t protect you from every problem in life. The founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. He was a billionaire many times over already and spent a lot of money treating his cancer but he could not buy a cure for himself. His money could not buy him health or even one more day on earth.

Another thing that money can’t buy you is peace with God. The currency and capital that we crave so much is worthless in the eyes of God. As creator, he owns everything but as a self-sustaining, uncaused spirit, he needs nothing. Those who are wealthy may feel as sense of security in this life but–like all of us–they too should fear the wrath of God. This piece of Ezekiel 7:19 warned the wealthy, “Their silver and gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath.” In Ezekiel’s prophecy that statement was a warning. When the Babylonians invaded Judah, the rich would not be able to buy off the soldiers. Those soldiers would kill them, then take their wealth as loot (v. 21).

But this verse in Ezekiel 7:19 not only warns that the wealth of the rich won’t save them from God’s wrath, it also says that their wealth is part of the reason for God’s wrath. The last phrase says, “for it has caused them to stumble into sin.” That sin is detailed in verse 20: “They took pride in their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols.” Wealth was a status symbol that caused the wealthy to be proud–something God hates. It also became an idol–literally–when they used it to make fake gods.

What is your relationship to money like? Does it give you a false sense of security? Do you view it as evidence that God is pleased with you even as there are sins and problems in your life that you are ignoring? Do you worship wealth–not literally as an idol–but through materialism? Is it hard for you to give generously to God’s work and to be kind to those who are poor?

Money can’t buy you anything with God but the way you think about money and use it reveals something about your relationship with God. If you’re in Christ, he’s absorbed the wrath of God for you; have you submitted the money and material things you have fully to his Lordship?

Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 10

Read Joshua 20-21 and Jeremiah 10.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Here we are, ten chapters into the prophecies of Jeremiah and many more chapters to go. And what have we been reading? Condemnation of sin and predictions of judgment, mostly.

Chapter 10 here is no exception. God spoke to his people (v. 1a) urging them to stop following the idolatry of other nations (vv. 2-5, 8-11) and instead to fear God (vv. 6-7) the true God (v. 10) and creator of all things (vv. 11-16). So, verses 1-16 hit the “condemnation of sin” button pretty hard.

Beginning in verse 17, the “predictions of judgment” began. You might as well pack up and leave now (v. 17) because you’ll be leaving one way or the other (v. 18).

After all this, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord in verses 23-25. He did not ask God to reconsider his plan for judgment or try to make a case that his people were undeserving of God’s wrath. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to the will of God (v. 23) and asked God to use the coming problems as an act of discipline, not anger (v. 24). Finally, he asked for God’s wrath to fall on Israel’s enemies for their sins against God’s people (v. 25).

What strikes me here in this section (vv. 23-25) is the tender-hearted humility of Jeremiah. Despite being a faithful prophet of God and a godly man, he knew that this life was not perfect before God. Instead of asking God to focus on “the real sinners” out there first, he asked for God to bring the loving hand of discipline into his own life, breaking his will and his sin-patterns without personally breaking him apart (v. 24c). This is an attitude far from our natural inclination to feel that God has treated us unjustly if something unpleasant comes into our lives. It shows his reverence for God, a recognition of God’s absolute lordship over everyone (v. 23).

Is this the attitude you bring to your walk with God? Have you ever asked God to discipline you, to purge out from our heart and your life anything that displeases him? It is a scary thing to ask for because God’s discipline can be very painful. Yet, as a loving Father, we can trust him not to pulverize us as he does his enemies, but to deliver a healing wound, like a surgeon does. When the doctor cuts a person open to remove the cancer from his body, a painful wound results and, even after that heals, a permanent scar is often left behind. Yet we thank the surgeon for healing us instead of complaining about the wound and the scars.

So it is with our Lord. When he hurts his children, it is for our ultimate good, our spiritual growth, to strengthen us to live more holy lives. May we emulate the prayer of Jeremiah in those moments of pain.

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

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 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Read Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will–even when it is bitter–and follow him obediently.

Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, Psalm 136

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, and Psalm 136.

This devotional is about Psalm 136.

Maybe this isn’t an issue anymore, but people used to complain that contemporary worship songs are too repetitive. I actually agree for the most part with that complaint and we try in our worship service to limit repetition that has no purpose.

Nevertheless, Psalm 136 is kind of repetitive; it contains the refrain, “His love endures forever” in every verse, after every other line of text. Perhaps this was written to be a “call and response” type of song where one group sang a line and another group responded with, “His love endures forever.”

Despite the repetitions, there is plenty of truth to consider in this song. The song begins with three calls to “give thanks to the Lord” (v. 1), “to the God of gods” (v. 2), and “to the Lord of lords.” The rest of the song fill-in the reasons to give thanks to God for his goodness. They are:

  • his creative power (vv. 4-9)
  • his redeeming love for Israel (vv. 10-22)
  • his continuing protection and provision (vv. 23-25).

That first section, verses 4-9, praise God for his creative power. He “made the heavens” (v. 5a), “spread out the earth upon the waters” (v. 6a), made the sun (v. 8a), moon and stars (v. 9a). Clearly, the psalmist believed that God was directly responsible for the design and existence of the material reality around us.

So, if we deny the literal creation account given in Genesis 1-2, what does that do to a passage like this? If theistic evolution–the idea that God started the process but that evolution did the rest–were true, what would that do to a song like this one?

The answer is that it would rob this song of any real ability to praise the Lord. Those who sang this song would be ringing a hollow tone, praising God for something that he had very little to do with. And this is just one example of the damage that is done to scripture and our faith if we abandon the doctrine of creation. The Bible began with the account of creation because so much of what is revealed about God in his word is tied to creation. Creation shows us God’s power, his wisdom, and his love. It calls us to bow before him in reverent worship and to know that we belong to God and are subject to him because he made us. What you make, you own and what you own you control. We belong to God because he made us. Therefore, he is worthy of our love, praise, obedience, and devotion.

Do you believe in the biblical account of creation? Do you understand how important that belief is to knowing God and following him as his people?