Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 3.

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. Back in chapter 1:6 Paul mentioned that the Thessalonian believers suffered persecution for their faith in Christ from the very beginning. We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home.

Here in chapter 3:3-4, Paul reminded the believers that he had predicted persecution would come to them (v. 4a-c) and that his prediction had come true (v. 4d). Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we are not with the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer.

These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8.

This devotional is about Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct–but related–things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase–“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Then compare that verse to this verse from Acts 1:8b: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do.

So God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because, according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace. But, at other times, God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news to other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear trials or persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later. Instead, use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, Luke 9

Read Exodus 29, Ecclesiastes 5, and Luke 9.

This devotional is about Luke 9.

At the beginning of this lengthy chapter, Jesus told the disciples, “If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet” (v. 5).

Toward the end of this chapter, Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village “to get things ready for him” (v. 52). I take that phrase to mean that Jesus was sending some of the people mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 to prepare for Jesus’s arrival because he was going to stay and teach in that village for a while on his way to Jerusalem.

According to verse 53 here in Luke 9, “the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.” Angry, apparently, that Jesus would only stay the night rather than for an extended time of ministry, the Samaritans decided they’d rather not have Jesus there at all.

James and John were incensed by this rejection. Claiming the supernatural power that Jesus had conferred on them in verse 1, these two brothers “asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’”

Their question demonstrated the wrong spirit toward those who had rejected Jesus.

When Jesus told the disciples to shake the dust off their feet in verse 5, the reason he gave was “as a testimony against them.” It was for their warning and rebuke that Jesus commanded the disciples to do this, not because the disciples were angry or ready to send judgment on the towns that rejected them.

So, instead of saying, “Great idea! Let’s torch ’em!”, according to verse 55 “Jesus turned and rebuked” James and John instead of praising them or encouraging them in their anger.

The reason Jesus rebuked them was that James and John were not concerned about the lost souls of these Samaritans; they were ticked off at being rejected and wanted to show them some power!

Jesus surely will bring judgment on anyone who rejects him in this life. That is one of his promises and one of his roles when he returns.

But, until the day of judgment begins, Jesus calls us to show grace and mercy to his enemies, not to call for their destruction. We should keep this in mind when unbelievers mock our faith, or belittle us personally, or even persecute us. We should definitely testify to them about the judgment that Jesus will bring for these actions; that’s what he told the disciples to do in verse 5–testify against them.

But we should be merciful and plead with them as we talk to them about God’s judgment because we know that their eternal souls are at stake.

So consider your heart and attitude toward those who are hostile to righteousness, to Christianity, Christians, or Christ. Don’t hope for and call for God’s judgment; tell them of God’s judgment but in a way that shows them how much we want to see God’s mercy in their lives.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29.

This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.

2 Kings 1, Daniel 5

Read 2 Kings 1 and Daniel 5.

This devotional is about 2 Kings 1.

Sometimes greatness is recognized in people while they are alive. At other times, however, great people are not recognized until much later. Elijah is one of the great men of God in the entire Bible. He spoke God’s word with great authority and he called on God’s power to authenticate his message (such as here in 2 Kings 1:9-15). Elijah did not write any scripture, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, yet his ministry as a prophet of God was the pattern that John the Baptist followed (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17). Also, his prayer life is a model for us to follow according to James 5:17. So Elijah was a great man, a powerful servant of the Lord.

Yet Elijah was unappreciated in times. His odd appearance (v. 8) might have had something to do with it, but it was really more a matter of the deep unbelief among the people he served. He was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel (v. 2: “Samaria”) which had not one godly king among the twenty it had in its history.

In this chapter one of Israel’s forgettable kings Ahaziah had an accident and wanted to know if he would recover. So, he sought an answer not from Elijah or Elijah’s God YHWH, the God of Israel; instead, he sent a messenger to ask “Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron” (v. 2).

Although he did not consult YHWH, he got an answer from YHWH. God messaged Elijah (v. 3) and dispatched him to confront the unbelief of Ahaziah (v. 3). Elijah found the messengers that Ahaziah had sent and knew what information they were seeking from Baal-Zebub. Those two facts should have offered strong proof that Elijah spoke for God and that God had the power and answers that Ahaziah sought. But, perhaps because the answer was a negative answer of judgment (v. 4), Ahaziah did not respond in faith toward God and appreciation for God’s messenger. Instead, he sought to do harm to Elijah (vv. 7-15).

You can tell a lot about someone’s beliefs by looking at (1) where they turn for answers and (2) how they respond when they get an answer from God’s word, especially if that answer was negative and unsolicited. We have access to God’s word and many capable–even excellent–teachers of it unlike most people in history have had. Sure, none of us is Elijah, but we have a much greater amount of God’s revelation than Elijah had because we have Christ revealed and the scriptures completed.

Yet how often do we turn to secular sources–books, radio shows, podcasts, Oprah, whatever–for answers instead of to God’s word and his servants?

Are you looking outside God’s word for answers to your problems?

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Read 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 17.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God.

In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him.

But the woman God sent to provide for Elijah was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” That town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12).

Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she?

Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but, instead, to trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23).

The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required daily, constant faith, but God never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity?

Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people?

Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Read 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

This devotional is about Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment on the nation’s sins personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light….” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgment even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins–those were punished on the cross–he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?

Ruth 2, Jeremiah 37

Read Ruth 2 and Jeremiah 37.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 37:18: “Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?’”

The United States of America has laws in place to protect freedom of speech but, as with every right, the law protects the freedom of speech that God, the creator, gave you and me. It does not grant us that right; our freedom and right to say whatever we want to say is God-given, not America-given or constitutionally-given. The law merely protects that right.[1]

Israel did not have laws that protected freedom of speech but, like us, they had that freedom as a right granted to them by God. The only speech that was prohibited under God’s law was speech that was directly against the true God such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, blasphemy, and enticing someone to serve other gods. Beyond that category, people had the freedom to speak however and whatever they wanted to speak. There is no prohibition of one’s freedom where the law is silent.

Jeremiah’s question, here in Jeremiah 37:18 was, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?” The assumption behind his question was that speaking your mind is not a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to another citizen of Judah or to the king of Judah, speech is not a crime and should not be prosecuted.

Certainly, Jeremiah experienced persecution because he was giving God’s message. However, he also was a political dissident because God’s message was about the coming loss of national sovereignty for Judah and, therefore, the loss of political power for the king (v. 17). The king’s men used a bogus charge of “deserting to the Babylonians” (vv. 13-14) as an excuse censor Jeremiah’s message, as well as to beat, and prosecute God’s prophet unjustly (v. 15). That is what an oppressive government does. If it can’t silence you through threats, intimidation, or directly applicable laws, it will accuse you of violating other laws to punish you instead.

Our world–and our country–is steadily infringing on our rights. College campuses are a current battleground for the infringement of free speech. There are many troubling stories out there. I won’t get into them, but you can see for yourself at https://www.thefire.org/newsdesk/. Note that this group is led by political liberals, yet they are concerned by the loss of free speech in higher education. College may be the battleground now but as college students graduate and enter the mainstream of society, their distorted notions about speech will change what is considered acceptable and prosecutable in the country at large.

Indeed, private corporations and technology companies are making more and more decisions that stifle dissent and freedom of speech. “Cancel culture”–the tendency to silence and try to harm economically someone whose opinions are unpopular–seems to be taking over here in America.

One might object by saying, “The first amendment applies only to the government, not to entities such as colleges or private companies like YouTube/Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.”

To counter that objection, I would first argue that colleges are part of the government because most of these schools rely on federal funds through grants and student loans.

Secondly, in the case of private companies like YouTube and others, we are told that it is morally wrong to discriminate against groups based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. If it is morally wrong to discriminate against these groups, then it is also morally wrong to discriminate against political speech, because every group’s ideology has political implications and applications. If it is wrong to exclude women or feminists from these platforms, then it is wrong to discriminate against anyone who has any kind of point of view.

A lot more could be said about all of this but I’ll finish by saying this: If we lose freedom of speech–either by government persecution or by corporate/societal exclusion–then the loss of freedom of religion will follow quickly. That may be God’s will for us; it was for Jeremiah. As Christians, we must be committed to God’s word and willing to say what it says even if we are persecuted for it. But, it is also right and just for us to point out when God’s enemies are violating our God-given rights just as Jeremiah did here.


[1]Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say that some group, like illegal immigrants, don’t have rights. They do have rights because rights are not granted by the government; instead, they are supposed to be protected by the government. Or, more precisely, the law is supposed to protect everyone’s rights FROM the government or anyone else who would seek to use power to infringe on someone’s God-given rights.

Joshua 22, Jeremiah 11

Read Joshua 22 and Jeremiah 11.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 11.

The first seventeen verses of this chapter continued Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah but then verses 18-23 interrupted that prophecy abruptly. Some of God’s people were tired of hearing about his anger and coming wrath. Instead of heeding the message, they decided to kill the messenger (v. 19b). Jeremiah was completely unaware that there was a plot afoot against him (v. 19a) but God supernaturally revealed it to him (v. 18).

Jeremiah responded to this plot not by running away to some distant land. Instead, he called on God to deal with his enemies justly. He appealed to God’s righteousness and his knowledge of everyone’s hearts and minds (v. 20a-b). Then he requested in verse 20c-d that God bring his wrath on those who sought to kill him. God answered Jeremiah’s prayer and promised to “bring disaster” on his enemies (v. 23b). But that disaster would happen in God’s time–“in the year of their punishment” (v. 23b).

Note that Jeremiah’s request for God’s justice was based on truth. He mentioned that God is one who will “test the heart and the mind” (v. 20b). This shows that Jeremiah was not seeking an unfair punishment just because he was disliked by “the people of Anathoth” (v. 21a). He was not asking God to carry out his personal vendetta but was asking God to do the right thing as a perfectly righteous judge.

Although God divinely protected Jeremiah in this instance, he did allow Jeremiah to experience persecution at other times in his life as we will read about in future devotionals. God also allowed other faithful prophets of his to be killed. So God does not always promise or provide absolute protection for his people or even for those who are serving him in difficult circumstances. What God does provide is protection within his will and just punishment in his timing.

This should give us comfort when we hear of persecution of other brothers and sisters of ours in Christ and if or when we experience persecution for Christ. God is watching over your life and he will hear and answer your requests for help. But, as his servants, we must believe that he knows best about when and how to administer his justice.

It is also important to remember that God may choose to have mercy on persecutors. The very people you would like to see experience God’s judgment might be ones God chooses to save. Think about Stephen, for a moment, the first Christian martyr. He was executed for preaching Christ (Acts 7) and could have justly called for God’s justice on his persecutors. Instead, with his dying breath, he called out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60b). One of those who persecuted him and for whom he prayed as Saul of Tarsus (8:1). God allowed Saul to continue persecuting God’s children for a while, but then he saved Saul and used him to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. That was an answer to Stephen’s prayer in Acts 7:60.

All of us were guilty before God and deserve his righteous wrath; those of us in Christ have received his mercy despite our sins. It is appropriate to pray for God’s justice when someone persecutes you but it is also Christlike to pray for God’s mercy.

Is someone making your life difficult because you are a believer in Christ? Have you prayed for God to have mercy on them or to bring justice to them in his time and according to his will? Instead of holding anger and resentment toward others, these are the righteous ways to deal with persecution. As Romans 12:18-21 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123

Today we’re reading Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 7, Psalm 123.

This devotional is about Psalm 123.

The songwriter of this song felt belittled. Verses 3b-4 say, “…we have endured no end of contempt. We have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.” The problem he experienced, as described here, was less serious than many others addressed in the Psalms. Nobody was out to kill the songwriter the way that Saul and others tried to kill David. No army was attacking. This psalm appears to have been written before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. So the situation that gave rise to this song is unclear, but probably not life-threatening.

But it appears to have been more than just a personal issue between two Hebrew men. Whoever the “proud” and “arrogant” of verse 4 were, they were likely unbelieving Gentiles who were taunting and terrorizing many of God’s people.

The response of the songwriter was to look to God: “I lift up my eyes to you…,” he wrote in verse 1. In verse 2 he compared looking to God with how slaves look to their masters. This probably refers to the provision of food and other needs that masters provided to their slaves. Slaves were in a state of complete dependence on their masters. This is how the Psalmist thought of his and other Jewish people’s relationship to God–absolute dependence. The songwriter was not planning to attack his opponents with fists or swords or even words. Instead, he looked to the Lord for “mercy” (v. 2d, 3a). His reaction to the problem behind this Psalm, then, was a Godward reaction. It drove him to his knees in utter dependence on God; it caused him to plead with God for help.

This Psalm is a “song of ascents” as you saw in the superscription. That means it was one of a collection of Psalms the men would sing three times a year as they made their way from their homes to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory times of worship. I imagine that this Psalm had a slow, somber melody. The men singing it were leaving behind their homes and possessions to venture to Jerusalem. Given the presence of hostile people around them, who would protect their home and possessions while they were gone?

The answer is the Lord himself, the one they were traveling to worship. The people looked to him for help and were completely dependent on his help since they would be unable to do anything to protect their stuff while they were gone. Looking to the Lord, though, provided them with a measure of hope and comfort. Surely God would keep his promises faithfully and watch over them and their families and possessions.

As our nation becomes more secular, attacks against our faith are becoming more frequent and more direct. Maybe there are people in your life–at work or in your family or neighborhood–who are taunting you because of your faith. Maybe they treat you with contempt, ridiculing you for your faith in God and devotion to Christ. Maybe there is little you can do about it; you can’t move, can’t change jobs, can’t disown your family. What you can do is look to the Lord in humble dependence. You can pray every day and every time you feel belittled, persecuted, or threatened. Do that, and may the Lord give you strength until he shows mercy on you and deals with the threats you face in answer to your prayers.

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Exodus 23, Job 41, Psalm 71

Today we’re reading Exodus 23, Job 41, and Psalm 71.

This devotional is about Exodus 23.

We all desire acceptance and approval. When we feel like the majority of people around us disagree with us on something, each of us feels a strong psychological pull to fall instep with the opinions of the majority.

Exodus 23:2-3 warn us about allowing social power to control us. Three types of situations were addressed in these verses:

  • justifying a sinful action with the rationalization that “everyone is doing it” (v. 2a).
  • testifying falsely in court because there are more people on one side of the dispute than on the other (v. 2b).
  • letting your sympathy for a poor person cause you to hand down a verdict in court in their favor even though the facts prove that the other party in court is in the right.

Let’s focus on the first of these situations. In verse 2a, God’s command to Israel was, “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.” When groups use their power–either social power or the power of sheer numbers–to overrule what is morally right, that is sinful in the sight of God. Although we may feel a desire to do the sinful thing that they are doing or to do it just to fit in within, God’s word calls us to stand apart even if that means standing alone.

These days, social pressure is being applied to us on a host of moral issues such as cohabitation, abortion, easy divorce, affirming homosexuality or transgenderism. Political correctness mandates that we say only what is societally accepted on these and other issues. Dissent from the prevailing opinion is not allowed. Our options often feel like either to keep quiet or repeat the politically correct position as if we agree with it. Some Christians and churches have come out and affirmed the unbiblical position on these things. They follow the crowd and make it stronger. Already the Christian faith as we practice it is being labeled as bigoted and hateful. Someday–not too far off–there may be calls to censor our doctrine and prosecute our teachers and preachers for hate speech when we teach what the Bible says on these subjects.

Truth is not a matter of public opinion and that is what the laws in the early verses of Exodus 23 are designed to protect. As the Lord’s people, we need to be reminded periodically to be truth-driven, not pressure-driven or personality-driven. Next time you feel pressured to join in or go along with something unbiblical that lots of people are doing, remember what God told Israel in Exodus 23:2: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”