Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, Psalm 88

Today we’re reading Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, and Psalm 88.

This devotional is about Exodus 40.

At long last the tabernacle was completed as well as all the items that were needed to make it useful for worshipping God. The Lord ordered Moses to set it all up (vv. 1-8), set it apart with anointing oil (vv. 9-11), and anoint Aaron and his sons for their ministry in it (vv. 12-15). The rest of the chapter details how Moses obeyed these commands (vv. 16-33) and how the Lord blessed this tent with his presence and communicated his will through that presence (vv. 34-38).

God had promised his presence would go before Israel and give them rest in the promised land (Ex 33:14). That promise was now visually fulfilled through the cloud that inhabited the tabernacle. So, on one hand, the tabernacle demonstrated God’s presence with his people.

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in this chapter on the importance of keeping the people separate from the presence of God in the tabernacle. The word “holy” means to set apart, to make special by separating something for a particular use. Each anointing of the tabernacle and its furnishings and instruments was done to set it apart as holy for the Lord’s service (vv. 9-10). The strongest indication of God’s separation was the “shielding curtain” (v. 21a) that “shielded the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21b). What was it shielded from? Everyone. Nobody was allowed near the ark which represented God’s presence. It was kept in the most holy place and only the high priest could enter and then only once a year. So, while God was truly present among his people, his holiness still kept them from direct contact and fellowship with him.

This is why the gospel writers took note of how the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross. The curtain that was torn was the one between the most holy place and the rest of the temple. When it was torn at the death of Christ, it was a direct, visual symbol that the separation between God and man was now over. God did not lower his standards and allow people into his presence. Instead, in Christ, we are declared to be holy–the theological word is “justified”–because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Through Christ we have access to God that people before Christ never had. God invites us to know and love him, to contemplate his greatness and worship him in holiness because our Lord Jesus Christ gave us access by his death.

We must always keep in mind what God has done for us in Christ. That is the main reason why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. Through him we have direct access to God and can approach him at any time in prayer without fear.

Have you approached him yet today?

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

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

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 29, Proverbs 5, Psalm 77

Today’s readings are Exodus 29, Proverbs 5, and Psalm 77.

This devotional is about Psalm 77.

Sleepless nights are a fact of life for most adults. Some have them frequently, others rarely, but all of have times when we are too worried or wounded or whatever to sleep. The songwriter here in Psalm 77 described one of those times in the opening stanzas of this song. Verse 2 says, “at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted” while verse 4 says, “You kept my eyes from closing.”

God’s word has taught us believers to seek the Lord in those moments when we can’t sleep and the Psalmist did that in this song (vv. 1-3a). When he ran out of ways to ask for God’s help, he turned his mind to the ways God had revealed his power in the past. Verse 5 says, “I thought about the former days, the years of long ago, and verse 10 says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.’” Which miracles, you ask? Verses 15-20 describe the miracles God used to deliver Israel from the Egyptians through Moses and Aaron. When. this songwriter lived, those miracles had happened hundreds of years before. They were not memories he conjured up from his personal experiences in the past; they were acts of God that he had read about in the books of the Law and heard taught in the tabernacle. Recalling these gracious works of God historically gave Asaph confidence to trust God for his need. In verse 13, the author wrote, “Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” Notice that all these verbs are in the present tense–you are holy, you are the God who performs miracles, etc. Because God had worked the past, the author was confident he would work in this situation.

When you can’t sleep at night, cry out to the Lord for help, then think about all he has done in the past that is recorded in the scriptures. Let their words give you confidence in God’s power for your life.

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 73

Today we’re reading Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 73.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous—nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you….” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them….”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalm 62

Today we’re reading Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalm 62

This devotional is about Exodus 14:10-15.

Although they saw the miraculous power of God repeatedly in the ten plagues, God’s people became fearful in this chapter when they saw the Egyptians pursuing them. Verse 10b says, “They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” Their crying out, however, was not for his help or his power. That would have honored God. Their cries were cries of unbelief as you can see in their words to Moses in verses 11-12.

Moses’s answer in verses 13b-14 was magnificent. It radiated faith in God’s promises: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Despite this perfect response to Israel’s unbelief, Moses must have felt some fear, too. God rebuked him in verse 15: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.’” The Hebrew word translated “you crying out” is singular. In other words, God wasn’t saying, “Why are you Israelites crying out to me.” He was saying, “Knock off the praying, Moses, and get moving.”

Did you know that there are some things in your relationship with God that you shouldn’t pray about? Asking for God’s help, strength, favor or for his power to overcome your fear is always appropriate. It is never necessary, however, to pray and ask God whether or not you should do something he’s clearly commanded us to do. We never have to pray about whether we should share the gospel, for instance, or go to church, or tithe, or read his word. We never need to pray about whether or not to obey any of the Ten Commandments or any other moral command of God’s word. Asking God whether or not we should obey his commands is not spiritual; it is an act of unbelief. God requires us to obey his Word; there is no need for further discussion.

Again, we can ask God for his favor as we carry out his commands. We can ask for his help so that we have the courage to obey his commands. We can ask for him to comfort our fears as we carry out his commands. What we shouldn’t do is ask for an exemption from obeying his commands. That is the opposite of faith.

Is there any area of your walk with God where you’re procrastinating on obedience? Are you “putting out a fleece” (to borrow the words of Gideon) when you should just be doing what God said. Quit praying (about that thing) and just do what God’s word tells you to do. As Moses told the people in verse 13b, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you….”

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Today’s readings are Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalm 55

Today’s readings are Exodus 7, Jobs 24, and Psalm 55.

This devotional is about Exodus 7.

In verse 3, God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.”

In verses 13 and 22 the Bible says, “Pharaoh’s heart became hard.”

Only spiritual stubbornness would allow a man to see God’s miraculous works over and over again without believing his messengers and letting his people go. In verse 5 God said that “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” It is amazing, isn’t it, that they didn’t know that he is the Lord long before that. The staff-to-snake miracle (vv. 8-12) and the Nile-to-blood miracle (vv. 14-22) seem to me like very convincing proofs. Yet Pharaoh would not let God’s people go. Why? Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (v. 3) and because his heart became hard(er) (vv. 13, 23).

When God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he did not “create fresh evil” (as one of my seminar professors used to say) in Pharaoh’s heart. Instead, he allowed Pharaoh to deny the implications of what he had seen and refuse to believe that God’s hand was behind these miracles. We see that in verse 14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go.’” The word “unyielding” helps us understand what was happening in Pharaoh’s heart in this chapter. God was showing him many convincing proofs but he would not yield to those proofs by admitting that YHWH was real and more powerful than he was. So when God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, he allowed Pharaoh to choose unbelief. Instead of sending the convicting power of the Spirit to soften Pharaoh’s heart, God allowed Pharaoh to respond to these miracles however Pharaoh wanted to respond to them. And, the way that sinners want to respond to God’s work is with unbelief.

This is why unbelievers can reject Jesus Christ even though they see God answer prayer or admit that they believe in life after death or realize that they have no explanation for the existence of sin. Without the convicting power of the Spirit, nobody would ever believe God and submit to his Lordship.

This is why we have no right to be proud about our faith. Your faith in Jesus is not the result of some clever insight you had to believe the gospel; it is the result of God’s gracious work in your heart by his spirit, softening your heart to respond in faith to the gospel.

It is also why you and I must pray for God to work in the hearts of unbelievers when we sow the seeds of the gospel. Unless God softens the heart, the ears that hear his word will reject it.

Are you thankful for God’s grace that softened your heart to trust in Jesus? Are you praying for his work in the hearts of others around you so that they, too, will recieve the gospel message?

Genesis 46, Job 12, Psalm 44

Today’s readings are Genesis 46, Job 12, and Psalm 44.

This devotional is about Psalm 44.

The “sons of Korah” who wrote this song were servants in the temple. That’s all we know about them. David was the beginning of music and lyrics in tabernacle/temple worship, so they followed him, but we don’t know how closely or how many years removed they were from David’s life and leadership of Israel.

We do know, however, that whoever wrote this song was longing for God to work in Israel. Verses 1-3 describe generally the work of God for Israel by bringing them military victory. This refers to conquest of Joshua, some of the victories of the Judges, and Saul and David’s victories. Because these men trusted God, God faithfully used them to win. But those “wins” came from God, as we read in verse 3: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” God’s work in those victories was a display of his power and love on behalf of his people.

The Psalmist wants that to happen again. Verses 4-8 draw parallels to the men God used in the past. They trusted in God and so did the writer (vv. 4, 6). They glorified God for their wins (v. 1) and so did the author of this Psalm (v. 8). But the results were not the same. Although the Psalmist had experienced some victories from the Lord (vv. 5, 7), he had recently witnessed some severe defeats (vv.9-16).

The simplistic answer for these defeats would be that God is punishing Israel for her sins. (This is the same viewpoint that Job’s friends had, incidentally.) But in verses 17-18, the Psalmist denied straying from God. Yet the defeats came and continued (v. 19). God knew their hearts (vv. 20-22), so the author was confident that it was not a sin punishment that was causing these losses. In verses 23-26, then, he concluded his song in faith. He was not content to think, “Well, God provided for our ancestors but he’s not doing that any more for us.” Instead, he calls out the Lord. You made a promise to us, Lord (v. 26b: “unfailing love”), so show up and display your power for our blessing once again.

There is, sometimes, a tendency to think that God won’t do today the things he did in the past. God isn’t saving people in our land anymore or he isn’t building great, strong churches. We just have to be content, one might think with little candles of hope today, not the great roaring flame of God’s power.

Have you ever thought this way?

Well…, has Jesus’s promise, “I am with you to the very end of the age” been rescinded? Is it no longer true that “All power has been given, in heaven and on earth” to him? Of course not! So, when we read of God’s power, his provision, his salvation and his work in the past, our response shouldn’t be, “Too bad he’s not doing that anymore.” Instead, it should be, be faithful God and do it again!

Let’s pray that way today over anything that you are concerned or discouraged about. God’s power isn’t for the past; it is here for every age and every believer who calls to him in faith for it.

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Psalm 32

Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, and Psalm 32.

This devotional is about Esther 9-10.

There are good, godly men who don’t believe that God cares about Israel as a nation any longer. They believe that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The Jews that exist today, then, are just like any other race of people on earth. There are some who are elect and will trust Christ by faith to become part of the church just as in every other nation. But, to those who believe that the church has replaced Israel, there is nothing special about national Israel.

I do not believe that.

I believe that God’s covenant with Abraham remains and that there are promises he made to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. Those promises will be fulfilled by Christ and, when they are, then Christians and Jewish believers will be united as one people of God in eternity.

One reason I believe this is why Jewish people still exist with their ethnic identity in tact. Throughout human history, there have ben repeated efforts to extinguish their existence. You are aware of Hitler’s attempts to destroy the Jews and that they have enemies today, such as the PLO, who want to wipe them out as well. But these modern threats are only the latest. Here in Esther, we’ve been reading about how Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews from the earth. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, he placed Mordecai and Esther in Xerxes’s palace to thwart Haman’s genocidal intentions.

What’s so interesting about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned at all, not once in any form. And, Esther became queen through immorality (chapter 2) and neither she nor Mordecai are portrayed as believers in YHWH or adherents to Judaism as a faith. The closest reference we see in Esther to God or faith in him is when Esther asked the Jews in Susa to “fast for me” and said “I and my attendants will fast as you do” (Esther 4:15-16). That’s it! She doesn’t even mention prayer with this fasting; just the fasting.

It may be true (it likely is, actually) that Esther and Mordecai were believers. But the author of Esther does not say so or detail for us what their walk with God was like. The purpose of the book of Esther is not to laud these two people for their faith, but to show how God was faithful to his covenant regardless of whether any of the Jews were faithful to him. This book also shows us how God works sovereignly. There is not one miracle described in the book nor is there any divine revelation to help out the main characters. In the book of Esther, people acted rationally, with intention and in fear at times without any divine intervention or even any overt acknowledgement on God. And yet, God still worked in their everyday lives to save his people from being extinguished. God may not be mentioned directly in the book of Esther, but his faithfulness to his covenant and his care for his people are demonstrated on every page.

Israel today lives in unbelief. There are Jews, of course, who have embraced Christ as Messiah and become Christians like we are. But the nation we call Israel was politically created and is one of the most progressive (in the moral sense; in other words, “liberal”) nations on earth. Yet just as God protected and cared for his people in Esther, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, he is preserving his people and watching over them. There will come a day when they will turn to Christ in faith (see Romans 11 and most of the book of Revelation). Those Jews who die before that day will perish in hell just like any other person who does not submit to Christ in faith. But God is faithful and will make good on his promises to Abraham, David, and others.

For us, the lesson of Esther is to trust God. Things around us may look good at times; at other times, they may look bleak. God has ways of accomplishing his will even through unbelievers and he will do it. So hope and trust in him, not in people, governments, programs, or anything else.

Genesis 32, Esther 7, Psalm 31

Today we’re reading Genesis 32, Esther 8, Psalm 31.

This devotional is about Psalm 31.

During the Gulf War (the one in the early 1990s), U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf held a famous press conference that made him into a celebrity. In that press conference, he showed a video of a car in Iraq crossing a bridge. Shortly after the car crossed the bridge, the bridge exploded from a bomb that U.S. forces dropped on it. Schwarzkopf referred to the driver of this car as “The luckiest man in Iraq” because he narrowly escaped a death he had no idea was coming.

If luck were real, David would be one of the luckiest men who has ever lived. He escaped death time and again–both in general when he went to battle and specifically when he was targeted by Saul and others. Here in Psalm 31 (as in other Psalms), we see past the brave warrior into the heart of this king. The dangers he faced were as stressful to him as they would be to any one of us (vv. 9-10). He dealt with these stresses by turning to God in prayer, pouring his heart out honestly to the almighty about his fears and pleading with God to be his “rock of refuge” his “strong fortress” (v. 2) and to deliver him (v. 1).

Because of the covenant God had made with David, God did deliver him over and over again. Although he was a skilled, prepared warrior, David’s success in battle and his longevity in life were more a matter of God’s protection and God’s will than anything else. David knew this, too. When he asked for God’s help and protection “for the sake of your name” (v. 3b) he was referencing the promises God had made to Israel and to him personally for Israel.

Even as he called on God for help, David knew that his days were determined by the sovereign will of God. When he wrote, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15a), he was humbly submitting to what God had determined for him. If God were to let him die in battle, that is his right as Lord.

Yet David was not deterministic about it. Recognizing that God had already decreed when and how he would die did not prevent David from asking God to “… deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me” (v. 15b-c). He was bold in asking for God’s help and giving God reasons why he should help; yet he was humble and submitted to whatever the Lord had willed.

Until Christ returns, death is a reality for each of us. People we love will die and someday, so will we. Fearing death (and other things in life) is natural. Crying out to God and looking to him for help and deliverance honors him in those moments. So does recognizing that your time and mine will come when God wills. These are all expressions of faith. Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith asking God for help when we are afraid as well as trusting his will when the time comes for us to go. We don’t need luck to protect us. Faith in our God is a much better defense.

VIDEO: The Luckiest Man in Iraq: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AjCAuYkrgA