2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Read 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

Risk is a problem for many people, maybe most of us. While we think we may be right about something, we also know that we’ve been wrong in the past. The question, “What happens if I’m wrong?” haunts us when we feel that something is risky.

Because of this, people do things to try to eliminate risk or, at least, decrease the cost of being wrong. Buying insurance for on life, for your home, or your car, or anything else is one way to mitigate risk. You buy that insurance but hope that you never actually need it. Insurance is one form of risk mitigation that we all use. People who invest a lot of money have ways of mitigating risk; so do some people who gamble.

Ezekiel prophesied God’s judgment on Israel for their idolatry, and, here in Ezekiel 14:1, it looks like the elders of Israel were trying to mitigate their risk. Verse 1 told us that they came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. It doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they said but in verses 2-3 God asked Ezekiel, “Should I let them inquire of me at all?” God’s question, then, indicates that the elders came to seek God’s revelation about something, probably the disaster that Ezekiel was predicting.

God was not flattered or impressed by their attempts to reach him through Ezekiel. The reason was, “these men have set up idols in their hearts” (v. 3). In other words, they were not coming to God in repentance, genuinely seeking truth from the true God. They were hedging their bets, trying to mitigate their risk. They worshipped false gods genuinely, from the heart; their interest in the true God was self-interest only. They came to Ezekiel only to try to get a good answer the question, “What if Ezekiel is right and God really does judge us?” They were like large corporations in our day who make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans so that whichever party becomes powerful will not treat them like the enemy.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied would become a spiritual heart transplant for God’s people. “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols” (v. 5). This is what God wants from people; a genuine worship, love, and devotion to him. Anything we do to try to appease him or “cover our bets” spiritually is offensive to him.

In Christ we have new life and a heart that genuinely desires to know and love God. Anyone who has an idol of the heart, be it materialism, pride, desire for admiration, or whatever, needs the spiritual heart transplant of regeneration that God spoke of in verse 5. That comes as a gift of God’s grace and has happened when someone follows God’s command to “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6).

Still, even as genuine followers of Christ, we are tempted by idols. A passage like this one calls us to reflect on our lives and consider which idols we may be flirting with in our hearts then repent and ask the Lord to purify us so that we “will no longer stray” from him (v. 11).

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13.

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

Deuteronomy 27, Isaiah 54

Read Deuteronomy 27 and Isaiah 54.

This devotional is about Isaiah 54:9-10.

God made so many promises to Israel and, though he fulfilled many of them, many others were not fulfilled due to Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. After Jesus came and was rejected by most of Israel, God turned his attention to saving Gentiles. Although some Jewish people find eternal life in Christ by God’s grace, most are locked in unbelief, a judgment of God for rejecting their Messiah.

While God is busy saving Gentiles, does that men he is done with Israel?

No.

Most of God’s chosen people are unbelievers in this age, but God is not finished with his nation. Instead, this chapter re-affirms God’s plans to regather his people Israel from all over the earth and establish his kingdom among them, in Jerusalem, just as he promised.

Verse 9 of Isaiah 54 told us that, when God re-gathers his people Israel, that he will make a promise to them. This promise is like the one he made to Noah and his descendants (v. 9). Just as he promised never again to destroy the earth with water, he promised his people that, “‘I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

So does God have a future for the nation of Israel?

Yes.

He will gather them up, give them new life to believe in him, and then never cut them off in anger or judgment again. But verse 10e describes God as “… the Lord, who has compassion on you.” This is why Israel was not permanently cut off or rejected. God is compassionate and patient and gave them many opportunities to turn to him. Someday they will turn to him in faith and all will be right with the world.

Just as Israel struggled with unbelief, we too fail the Lord and need his compassion. God’s faithfulness to Israel and the way he repeated his promises to them should give us hope. None of us lives obediently to the Lord like we should. Sometimes that causes us to receive his discipline but it never causes him to withdraw his promises.

If you feel defeated by your own struggles and failures, take hope. We are accepted and forgiven in Christ; therefore, God can say to us, “‘my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

May this promise fill you with peace and hope today.

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses repeated the 10 commandments for a new generation in this chapter, he also recounted the story of how God gave those commands. Specifically, he described how the Lord spoke these commandments audibly out of a fire on Mount Horeb directly to the people (vv. 4, 22). The people were afraid–who wouldn’t be?–and asked Moses to listen to the Lord’s voice and repeat what God to him to them (vv. 23-27).

God was pleased with this plan (v. 28) and then said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always” (v. 29a). This has been God’s desire from day one (er…, day six of creation, actually) for humanity. He wants us to fear him and keep his commands. God wants your reverence and obedience for his own glory; he deserves it as the only eternal and sovereign creator. No one else is worthy of receiving reverence and obedience beside the Lord.

But notice the last phrase of verse 29, “…so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” There was great benefit for Israel if they would only fear God and keep his commands; God promised his blessings on the lives of his people if they feared and obeyed him. This is the grace of God. He is not a tyrant demanding obeisance for selfish, egoistic reasons. Although he deserves reverence and obedience, he also promised good lives to those who would believe him and walk in his ways.

Israel received specific promises of God’s blessing for their obedience but the blessings that come from fearing and obeying God were not only for Israel. As Creator, God planned and promised blessings to anyone who would live by faith and follow him. A life of love, joy, and peace is available to anyone who inclines a heart toward God, fearing and following him.

The problem is that we cannot obtain this blessing because we all fall short. Our minds and hearts are polluted and deluded by sin. We daily encounter a strong inclination to selfishly disobey God and go our own way. Shortly after the events described in this chapter, these people would make a graven image of a calf and bow down to worship it. The fear of God that pleased him so much in verses 23-28 was soon forgotten, replaced by an idol in disobedience to God’s word. These laws, then, were designed to show God’s people the right way but also to expose the impossibility of walking in that right way apart from the grace of God.

Jesus came to obey these commands perfectly on our behalf, to suffer the penalties of our disobedience to these commands on our behalf, but then to give us a new nature and the Holy Spirit. Born anew by the power of God’s spirit, we now have the desire (“hearts… inclined to fear” God (v. 29a)) and the power to fear God and keep his commands. As Christians, we can read a text like verse 29c, “…keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” and know that we can do this by the grace of God.

These verses can help remind us of God’s great promises and plans for us if we follow him by faith. If we can remember these verses when we are weak and tempted, they will help us to remember that God wants us to keep his commands for our good. Carry this verse with you, then, as you go into the world.

Exodus 2, Job 19, Psalm 50

Today’s readings are Exodus 2, Job 19, and Psalm 50.

This devotional is about Job 19.

It is sometimes argued that the Old Testament does not teach an after-life. Job 19:25-27 is a clear text that contradicts that argument. This chapter continued the documentation of Job’s arguments with his friends. Although they came to him expressing a desire to comfort him in his sufferings, they made assumptions about Job and his morality and condemned him as a sinner by applying their incorrect assumptions to their simplistic theology.

Job, in this chapter, complained painfully about the words of his friends. He found their words to be “torment” (v. 2a) and begged them for “pity” (v. 21). Although Job was perplexed that God would bring this kind of suffering in his life, his faith in God’s existence and in life after death did not waver. In verse 25a, he affirmed his faith in God’s existence: “I know that my redeemer lives.” He went on in the latter half of that verse to state his confidence that, someday, God would walk this earth.

But notice verse 26: “And after my skin has been destroyed….” What destroys a person’s skin? Death. After a person’s body dies, it is buried to decompose. God created us from the dust of the ground and the earth reclaims its dust after we die. So Job here is acknowledging that his physical body will decompose. But notice that he said, “AFTER my skin has been destroyed, yet…. I will see God” (v. 26b). Job believed that there was life after this life is over and that in that life after death he would experience God personally and directly.

Notice the phrase I omitted, however, from verse 26b: “…yet IN MY FLESH I will see God.” This phrase shows that Job understood not only that he would meet God after death but that there would be a bodily resurrection that he, Job, would experience personally.

This is our hope as well. In Christ’s resurrection, we have been raised spiritually to walk a new life. But the curse of physical death is still upon us until the final resurrection. While we may fear the process of death, the pain and sadness that it causes, there is no reason to fear death itself. Because of Christ, we may have confidence that we will see God personally, in the flesh, at the final resurrection. That meeting will be a loving reunion between our Father and his children or a moment of final judgment for those who have rejected God and his word and his Son in this life. Put your hope in God, therefore, if you haven’t already. He will bring you through the process of death and safely into his kingdom for eternity.

No doubt about it.