2 Chronicles 21 and Revelation 13

Read 2 Chronicles 21 and Revelation 13.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 21.

For all the good that he did, Jehoshaphat was unable to leave Israel with a godly successor. His son Jehoram got to be king because “he was his firstborn son” (v. 3c). That’s not a very good reason for choosing someone to be your successor. Solomon, for instance, was not David’s firstborn son; not even close.

Jehoram must have felt some insecurity about his reign because when he had “established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel” (v. 4). He also married one of Ahab’s daughters who evidently influenced him toward idol worship (v. 6, 11).

God was gracious to Jehoram, to a point, despite his murder and idolatry, but that was only due to his covenant promise to David (v. 7). Although God did not remove him from being king, he did bring severe trials into Jehoram’s life because of his sins:

  • He faced rebellion from the Edomites (vv. 8-10) “because Jehoram had forsaken the Lord, the God of his ancestors” (v. 10b).
  • He received a stern letter of warning from Elijah (vv. 12-15).
  • He lost when attacked by Philistines and others (vv. 16-17).
  • He contracted an incurable bowel disease (vv. 18-19) and “died in great pain” (v. 19b).

Since Jehoshaphat ran such a tight ship religiously when he was king, one might reason that Israel enjoyed having Jehoram, a fellow idol worshipper, follow him and loosen things up. No such luck, though; when he died, “His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors” (v. 19c). Ouch! Verse 20 summed up his eight year reign this way, “He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

That phrase, ““He passed away, to no one’s regret” is a sad epitaph for anyone’s life.

It is foolish to live so that others regret your death. If you do that, you’ll spend your life trying to please everyone. But it is impossible to please everyone and even more impossible to please God at the same time you try to please other. That’s because God wants you to be holy and everyone else wants to be unholy.

But look at Jehoshaphat. He made some dumb decisions, but he lived for the glory of God to the best of his ability and he is remembered for that. Proverbs 28:12 says, “When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.” The way to be remembered well at your funeral is to live a righteous life and be the best manager for the Lord of whatever power and influence he gives you. People may be repelled by your high standards, your ethics, and your morals but over time they will respect the steady leadership you have provided.

2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12

Read 2 Chronicles 19-20 and Revelation 12.

We read yesterday about the foolish alliance that the godly king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, made with the ungodly king of Israel, Ahab. God saved Jehoshaphat even though he went into battle dressed like a target (see 18:29-31) and he caused Ahab to be killed even though he was trying to avoid detection (18:33-34).

Here in chapter 19, a prophet named Jehu rebuked Jehoshaphat for his alliance with Ahab (vv. 1-2). Although “the wrath of the Lord” was on Jehoshaphat (v. 2b) he was still man who set his “heart on seeking God” (v. 3b).

What were the evidences of that his heart was set on seeking God?

First, he turned others to seeking God. Chapter 19 verse 4 told us that he reached out to the people “from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim.” This is a large area around Jerusalem, where Jehoshaphat lived. Beersheba was far to the south of Jerusalem, encompassing all of Judah and Simeon as well as a number of Israel’s enemies. “The hill country of Ephraim” was the area due north of Jerusalem, including the tribes of Benjamin and Dan. These are areas that belonged to the Northern Kingdom of Israel but Jehoshaphat traveled around these places “and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their ancestors” (19:4b).

Second, he delegated justice to others but charged them to judge in the fear of God (19:5-11). One man cannot do all that needs to be done, but a godly leader both delegates the work and urges those responsible to do the work in a way that pleases God because they fear God.

Third, he trusted God to keep His covenant (20:6-7) and defend His people (20:1-13), looking to God in prayer for these promises. Because of his faith God answered his prayers and miraculously delivered Judah from their attackers (20:14-26).

Fourth, he gave thanks and praise to God in worship when God delivered Judah from her enemies (20:27-28).

Jehoshaphat did some really stupid things (see 18:29-32 again. Sheesh). His obedience was imperfect (20:33) and failed to learn his lesson at times (20:35-36). God even disciplined him for some of these things (20:37). But because his heart was set on seeking God (19:3), God was merciful to him when he disciplined him and God blessed the areas where he was wise and faithful to the Lord.

Isn’t that encouraging? Even though he messed up a lot, his efforts to do right were blessed and praised by God because they came from a sincere heart of obedience. I hope this gives you some comfort and encouragement to keep seeking the Lord and striving to do what’s right. I hope it helps you not to be discouraged when the Lord’s discipline comes into your life but to keep seeking him for as long as you live.

1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, 2 Timothy 3

Read 1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, and 2 Timothy 3.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 11.

First Kings 10, which we read yesterday, seems to describe the apex of Solomon’s career as king. The queen of Sheba had heard about “the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord (10:1a). That last phrase is key because after she tested him with hard questions (10:1b-3), she saw everything there was to see about his kingdom (vv. 3-5). Her response was to praise God and give him glory for it all (v. 9). Her praise to God seems to show that Solomon gave praise to God for it all. It was his humility, his faith in God, and his obedience that led to such an amazing golden era in Israel’s history.

All of that started to unravel here in 1 Kings 11. Contrary to God’s commands (11:2), Solomon married women from every foreign nation around Israel in addition to his Egyptian wife (v. 1). And his marriages to these women were not merely diplomatic, a way of forming peace accords between Solomon and these other countries. Instead, verse 2c says, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Indeed, he must have really, really been enamored with women because verse 3a-b says, “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines….” At some point, Solomon’s harem became the idol in his life that displaced God. We see that in verses 3c-4 which say, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”

The result of his romantic idolatry was real idolatry. Verse 5 says, “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.” The implication I see in this passage was that his desire to please his wives led him to do what they wanted him to do, namely worship idols with them. 

God was not passive about Solomon’s idolatry. Instead God promised that Solomon’s heir would lose the whole kingdom except for David’s tribe Judah (vv. 9-13). In addition to that promise, God raised up threats to Solomon’s kingdom from outside of it (vv. 14-25) and inside of it (vv. 26-40). Instead of finishing his reign in peace and prosperity, he left behind a disorderly, divided kingdom.

The lesson here, of course, is to be careful what you love. If you want to please anyone more than you want to please God, the temptations that follow that desire will be intense—too intense for most of us to resist. While God is gracious and merciful to forgive our sins, what he wants from us who know Christ is obedience from an undivided, loyal heart to him.

So, what is it or who is it that competes with God for your attention? Who do you want to please so much that disobeying God’s commands becomes an option or even a decision or habit? What pastime, or hobby, or ambition, or goal, or whatever captures your attention when your mind wanders? What do you daydream about? What habit are you developing that is disobedient to God’s word?

Whatever it is, get rid of it! Remove it from your life as much as possible and, when you find yourself turning your attention to it, turn to God in prayer and ask him to remove that affection from your heart. 

Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, Proverbs 16:1-15

Read Joshua 1, Jeremiah 26, and Proverbs 16:1-15.

This devotional is about Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people.

For some, wealth is valuable because of the experiences it can buy. Others value the possessions that wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security.

Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better–wiser–to do right instead of taking the money? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact,  you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will mistakenly give you a $10 bill back instead of a $1 bill? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme.

Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and one “who keeps his covenant of love….”
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Matthew 5

Read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, and Matthew 5.

This devotional is about Matthew 5:1-12.

Matthew chapters 5-7 record what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s sermon begins with “The Beatitudes.” The word “beatitude” is transliterated into English from the Latin word that begins each line. Since the only available translation of the Bible for hundreds of years was the Latin Vulgate, this Latin word for “happiness,” beatitudo, stuck as the title of the first section of Christ’s sermon. The beatitudes are eight statements of Christ about who is really happy; his list is quite surprising.

If we were to commission the Gallop organization to do a nationwide poll of ordinary Americans and ask them who is happy, I don’t think the list we would get would be anywhere close to the one Jesus made here in Matthew 5:3-10. Even if we polled most Bible-believing Christians, my guess is that there would not be one answer in the top 10 that would correspond with anything on Jesus’ list. Each verse in the beatitudes is worth thinking deeply about, but let’s focus on one for today. Verse 6 says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

We humans long for so many things. We long for love, for security, for prosperity, for peace. We long for youth, or good health, or just a really great mocha. (OK, maybe that last one is just for me and few others of you…).

Sometimes our longing for these things is palpable; we talk about “starving for attention” or “thirsting for more.” But, think about people who have what you’re starving for. Are the wealthy so happy that they never get divorced? Are the famous so satisfied with the attention they receive that they chase the paparazzi, begging to have their pictures taken? If you wish you had your boss’s job and all the perks that come with it, think: Is she deeply satisfied with that station in life, or is she longing and plotting to take her boss’s job?

In contrast to all the things that we think will satisfy us, Jesus said that those who are truly happy are the ones who long to be righteous. They thirst to live a life that is pleasing to God. The hunger within that drives them is a hunger to think like God does, to act like God does, and to radiate the greatness of God in their words and actions. Instead of wanting to “Be like Mike” (as the old Gatorade commercial put it), they want to like Christ. THESE are the people Jesus said would be satisfied; he promised at the end of verse 6: “they will be filled.”

When we talk about being righteous people, we have to remember two things. First, our own righteousness is detestable to God because it is, at best, imperfect and incomplete. In reality, it is tainted through and through with our sinful attitudes and our other sinful acts. The only way we can ever be accurately described as “righteous” is if God gives us credit for being righteous even when we’re not. And, that is what he has done in Christ! When we trust God’s promise of life in Jesus, God treats us as if we lived the perfect life Jesus lived; he also forgives us for our sins through the payment Christ made for us on the cross.

Once we’ve been credited with righteousness by God, God goes to work on our longings. Over time and through the gifts of the scripture, the church, and the trials of life, God uproots our longings for sinful things and replaces them with a desire to BE righteous in reality. As we grow in Christ, we long to be more like him. The payoff for this, though, comes in the future. Jesus said, “they WILL be filled” not “they are filled.” In other words, the experience of happiness will be fully delivered when we see Christ and are transformed perfectly and finally into his likeness. Until then, we have the peace and joy of the Spirit as our downpayment, giving us a delicious taste of what it will like to feel full of righteousness when we are with Jesus.

2 Chronicles 7, Habakkuk 2

Read 2 Chronicles 7 and Habakkuk 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 7

This chapter in 2 Chronicles 7 is a spiritually satisfying one to read. The temple has been built and it is a wonder to behold. Nothing man makes is truly worthy of the Lord, but God was pleased to show his presence there (v. 1) because it was a structure built with love for him and it was done to the very best of human ability at that time. When God demonstrated his glory to the people, they worshipped him in thankful prayer (v. 3), animal sacrifices (vv. 4–5, 7) and music (v. 6). The people enjoyed a festival of dedication (vv. 8-9) and went home “joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done.”

Then God told to Solomon that he would answer his prayer of dedication (vv. 11-16) and the Lord affirmed to the king that he would bless Solomon’s kingdom for as long as he obeyed the Lord (vv. 17-22). Verse 10 describes the fitting conclusion to this event: “On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people to their homes, joyful and glad in heart for the good things the Lord had done for David and Solomon and for his people Israel.”

I usually feel this way at the end of a good pastor’s conference or an encouraging retreat. Spiritual crescendos like the one described here leave me feeling like I have spiritual momentum to walk with God without ceasing. But it doesn’t take long before living in a sin cursed world with a sin nature drags you back to reality.

But days like this are a preview of what all eternity in God’s kingdom will be like. We will work in God’s kingdom and live in a society there but we will also spend much time learning about the Lord, praising the Lord, and fellowshipping with other believers in the Lord. These activities will bring us more pleasure than any entertainment or recreation we enjoy in this life. That’s because our sin nature will finally be eradicated and we’ll be perfect by the grace the of God.

Hopefully you’ve experienced something like what is described in this chapter. I hope our Sunday services feel this way to you regularly. Moments like these give us a boost in our walk with God and remind us what God has promised for us in eternity. So savor those moments and be encouraged! God has so much in store for us when his promises are finally and fully fulfilled.

2 Chronicles 1, Micah 7

Read 2 Chronicles 1 and Micah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 1.

Actors, businesspeople, politicians, and sometimes even Christian leaders will occasionally to an online question and answer session called AMA. AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and it an open invitation to talk directly.

Here in 2 Chronicles 1, God issued an AMA to Solomon. In verse 7 God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” This is as close to a blank check from the Almighty as any man, woman, or child will ever get.

Our inclination is to ask for something selfish. As God praised Solomon for how he used his divine AMA, he mentioned that Solomon could have asked for “wealth, possessions or honor…, for the death of your enemies, or a long life….” Solomon got the wisdom he asked God for plus God promised, “I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (v. 12).

This reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:31-33: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we ask God for things that matter to him–wisdom, his kingdom rule, a righteous heart and life, God is pleased. Because he is pleased, he provides for the things we need but didn’t ask for and sometimes he provides for those things in abundance.

Listen to the things that people pray for or ask you to pray for. A lot of those requests revolve around health–“Pray for me as I’m having surgery on Friday”–or finances–“Pray for me to find a new job.” It isn’t wrong to pray for those things; it is wrong only to pray for those things because it shows a preoccupation with this world rather than knowing and pleasing the Lord.

Think about your prayer life. Is God pleased with the things you ask him for? The AMA invitation for wisdom is still open because James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Think about your prayers. What could you ask the Lord for that you’re not asking him for?

1 Samuel 19, Lamentations 4

Read 1 Samuel 19 & Lamentations 4.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 19.

There was simply no good reason why Saul should want to kill David, yet that was order that Saul gave to his son Jonathan (v. 1a). Instead executing the order (and David), Jonathan reported Saul’s intentions to his close friend, David (v. 1b-2a). Jonathan encouraged David to hide (v. 2b) while Jonathan attempted to to talk his father out of killing David (vv. 4-5). Although it was God’s will to replace Saul as king with David, it was not nearly God’s time for that to happen. David was more than content to serve Saul and wait for the Lord to make his will happen in his timing. There was no threat to Saul, either imminently or in the long-term. In fact, David had been a great benefit to Saul as Jonathan pointed out in verse 5a. The penetrating question Jonathan had for Saul was, “Why then would you do wrong to an innocent man like David by killing him for no reason?” (v. 5b). Since there was no reason for Saul to kill David, Saul relented and even put himself under oath to Jonathan not to kill David (v. 6). Although this restored David to Saul’s service for a time (vv. 7-8), it was only a matter of time until the demons that tormented Saul incited him to try to kill David again (vv. 9-17).

Although Saul and David are the main characters in this story, it is impossible not to be impressed with the selfless character of Jonathan. HE was the man who could have been fearful and jealous and homicidal toward David, yet he took “a great liking to David” (v. 1b), protected David’s life (v. 2) and sought to make peace between his father and his friend.

I wonder how often we try to make peace when there is obvious turmoil between people we know? Remember that Jonathan was not jumping to conclusions about Saul’s intentions toward David; Saul had ordered him and all his other men to kill David (v. 1a). We should certainly avoid jumping to conclusions and gossiping about others; those actions are sinful and create problems instead of solving them. But when we are aware of problems between others, how often do we stand on the sidelines and tell ourselves, “It’s none of my business.” Jonathan could easily have done that. He could have let his father sin or even become the agent of his father’s sin if he had obeyed the order in verse 1; he could have let his friend be killed because he did not want to get involved. But instead of passivity, Jonathan chose to have the hard, right conversation. Imagine confronting the king about his murderous intent; imagine telling your father that he was attempting to do wrong and sinning against God. These are not easy things to do and most of us (myself definitely included) would look for an excuse to stay out of it.

Jonathan, the one who had the most to gain by David’s death and the most to lose if he and Saul were reconciled, disregarded his own discomfort and advantage and did the right thing. Is there anyone in your life who is harboring sinful intentions that you know about? Are their people in your circle of relationships who need to be encouraged toward reconciliation? Could it be that God wants you to step in and try to do the right thing?

Ultimately, Jonathan was unsuccessful. He achieved a temporary cease-fire from Saul, but not a permanent solution. It doesn’t matter; Jonathan did everything in his power to do the right thing. It was a testament to his faith in God and desire to please Him. May we step up and follow his sterling example.

Judges 20, Jeremiah 34

Read Judges 20 and Jeremiah 34.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 34.

Zedekiah, though he was an ungodly king, had led Israel to free their Hebrew slaves (vv. 8-9). It was never God’s plan to have Jews who were permanently held as slaves in Israel or Judah. Instead, God’s law created a form of indentured servitude. A Jewish person who was in a financial corner could sell himself to another Jewish man for up to six years. On the seventh years, he was to be set free. Jeremiah pointed this out in verse 14. In verse 15-16, he had positive words for how they had freed their Hebrew slaves and even made a covenant with God about it (vv. 8, 15c).

Unfortunately, God’s people broke their covenant with him and took back the very slaves they had freed (v. 16). God prophesied again that they would be taken into exile by the Babylonians (vv. 17-20) as this act of unfaithfulness to the covenant was added to many other sins of the nation.

Entering a covenant to free the slaves was not necessary. They could have simply freed the slaves and honored that verbal decision accordingly. But making that covenant was a good thing, even if it was unnecessary. It is pleasing to God when we resolve to do the things that we know from his word. What isn’t pleasing to God, however, is when we tell God we will do something and then we change our minds and refuse to do it.

Have you told God you would do something–read the Word, tithe, attend church more faithfully, find a way to serve the poor, or something else–and then, have you taken it back?

I’m not talking about obeying imperfectly. I’m talking about deliberately changing your mind about a good decision you made for God? Jesus died to save us from the covenants we make and break but he also empowers us to keep the covenants we make with God and others.

If this passage reminds you of something you promised to God but either changed your mind about or just became lax about, then resolve today to return to that thing and do it for the glory of God.

Joshua 10, Jeremiah 4

Read Joshua 10 and Jeremiah 4.

This devotional is about Joshua 10.

In Joshua 9 the Gibonites saved their own lives by deceiving the Israelites and making a peace covenant with them. Here in chapter 10, their neighbors were ticked and decided to attack Gibeon in retaliation for the peace they had made with Israel (vv. 1-5). The agreement Joshua made with the Gibeonites was made under false pretenses. It protected them from being attacked by Israel but it in no way formed a NATO-like alliance that said Israel would come to their aid of they were attacked by others.

Nevertheless, when they were attacked, they sent word to Joshua asking for help (v. 6b). Joshua and his army did help even though they were under no obligation to do anything. So this was an act of kindness, a blessing conferred on the Gibeonites far beyond what they deserved or should have expected based on their agreement with Israel. God’s people did far more than they had to and God blessed their gracious act of deliverance and used it to defeat five kings at the same time (vv. 16-21) instead of attacking those cities individually.

What interests me in this passage is how magnanimous Joshua and his nation were. Instead of being bitter about the deception of Gibeonites and taking pleasure in their demise as if it were cosmic payback, Joshua came to their aid. He did not hide behind the technicalities of their covenant; he abided by the spirit of it–which was that the Gibeonites would be protected. In other words, God’s people went beyond what was required to do something generous and kind.

So many people today do only what is expected. Or, worse, many people will do less than what is expected if they think they can get away with it. Doing more than what you’re required to do and expected to do is gracious and, because it comes from grace, it is pleasing to God. God rewarded the kindness of his people toward the Gibeonites with a greater victory. Is there any area in your life where you’re doing only what is required or less? What might God do in your life if you put more effort and did more than what is expected or required in the areas where you’ve made commitments to others?

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?