2 Samuel 21, Ezekiel 28

Read 2 Samuel 21 and Ezekiel 28.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 28.

The tirade against Tyre that began in Ezekiel 26 continued into this chapter. The focus this time was on the king of Tyre (v. 2). God’s issue with him was his pride: “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god….'” His pride was based on his wisdom (v. 2i) and wealth (v. 4). These are related issues.

Tyre became a wealthy place because of its location on the Mediterranean sea. The people of Tyre used that location wisely by learning to navigate that sea and creating trade relationships with other costal towns. All of this is to their credit and God acknowledged that in verse 4 when he said, “By your wisdom and understanding you have gained wealth for yourself.” And, as verse 5 said, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth….” The king of Tyre sat atop all of this prosperity and all of it went to his head. Verse 5c-d says, “…because of your wealth your heart has grown proud.”

People who are intelligent and wise may become wealthy, but not always. Some people who excelled academically in school choose jobs in academia or government because those jobs feel safe. You can make a good living working for someone else but most wealth is created by working for yourself. Working for yourself, though, feels insecure and requires taking some risks. Those who make it and become wealthy, therefore, may use their wealth as a scorecard to inflate their own egos. “I took a chance on myself and look how well it turned out,” they may think, “so I must be smarter and wiser than most people.” Apparently the king of Tyre thought so much of his success that he ascribed to himself godlike qualities (vv. 2, 6). God, therefore, decided to douse him with a cold bucket of reality. The Babylonians, then, defeated Tyre just as they defeated the other nations around them.

Over and over again the Bible tells us that God hates pride and loves humility. A humble person can enjoy success and even wealth while realizing that (a) others contributed to one’s ability to generate wealth and (b) God ultimately decides who prospers and who does not. Someone once said that, “The world turns over every 24 hours on someone who thought they were on top of it.” The king of Tyre was about to find that out for himself. A humble, godly man like Job found that out, too.

Don’t follow his example. If you’re doing well, thank God for it and be a good steward of what you get.

2 Samuel 8-9, Ezekiel 16

Read 2 Samuel 8-9 and Ezekiel 16.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 8-9.

It was a long, winding road for David from being anointed as king back in 1 Samuel 16 to becoming king of all Israel in 2 Samuel 5. After many days of adversity and danger, David was enjoying some success, finally, in the past few chapters of 2 Samuel. Chapter 8 of our reading today is especially positive. It describes military success (vv. 1-6), increasing wealth (vv. 7-12), and growing fame (v. 13). Verse 14 ends with this apt summary: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.”

When someone is highly successful, that person may be tempted to become proud or merely complacent. The possibility of kicking back and enjoying the fruit of success can be high.

David, in chapter 9, went the other direction. When he finally obtained success he stared looking for ways to be an unselfish, kind servant. Verse 3 told us, “The king asked, ‘Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?’” The answer was Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, “the lame lad of Lo Debar” (v. 4). David moved him to Jerusalem and Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table as if he were a relative (v. 13). David also provided him with servants who tended to his land (vv. 9-10). This was an incredibly gracious act by king David and it made a significant difference in the life of a man with physical limitations.

Are you in a season of life marked by success and stability? If so, have you looked for a way to serve?

2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Read 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7

Read 1 Samuel 28, Ezekiel 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2

Read 1 Samuel 17, Lamentations 2.

This devotional is about read Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All that God had said through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes. Unlike the victory of faith that God gave to David in 1 Samuel 17, which we also read today, there was only defeat and judgment for Judah, David’s people, a few hundred years later.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Judah’s pride about being God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? It sure seems like that’s what people think and, if the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time. What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

1 Samuel 15, Jeremiah 52

Read 1 Samuel 15 and Jeremiah 52.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave him direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing. Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9).

God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11). In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord, with a few exceptions. But those exceptions were made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands. Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience. The text does not tell us, but as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience. It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not. The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (vv. 22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins which were worse than Saul’s—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28). What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”? Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word. We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47

Read 1 Samuel 10 and Jeremiah 47.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 10.

Yesterday’s reading, 1 Samuel 9, began to tell us the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. Today’s reading, chapter 10, concluded the story.

Although chapter 9 verse 1 told us that Saul’s father Kish was “a man of standing” in the tribe of Benjamin, Saul himself displayed quite a bit of humility about his family. In chapter 9:20 Samuel asked Saul rhetorically, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul’s response in 9:21 was, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” So, while Kish himself may have been an elder in his town and a man with a good reputation, Saul did not think of his family or himself as particularly noteworthy—not in the nation of Israel or in his tribe.

Yet, here in chapter 10, we read that Samuel anointed Saul to be king (v. 1), then prophesied about a distinct series of events that would happen to Saul. These events would be unremarkable. Two men Saul knew would meet him and tell him that his father was worried about him (v. 2), three men would greet Saul and give him some bread (vv. 3-4), and “a procession of prophets” would encounter Saul (v. 5). After he met the prophets, the extraordinary thing in this prophecy would happen: Saul himself would receive a powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit and would prophesy and “be changed into a different person” (v. 6). Bible scholars refer to this event as the “theocratic anointing,” meaning that, in this event, Saul was receiving God’s power and God’s public confirmation that he was God’s choice to serve as king.

Samuel referred to these as “signs” (v. 7). They were designed to give a humble rancher like Saul the conviction that God had indeed chosen him to be king. Everything about 1 Samuel 9-10 indicates that Saul had no ambition to be anything more than a rancher like his father Kish. Although Saul was tall and good-looking (9:2), he did none of the campaigning and self-promotion that would indicate he aspired to any kind of leadership, much less to become Israel’s king. He was truly a humble man of the people.

After telling Saul he would experience these signs, Samuel told Saul he would have God’s favor in whatever leadership he exerted: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (v. 7). But Saul was to wait in Gilgal for seven days and then he would be unveiled publicly as Israel’s king (v. 8). Every sign that Samuel predicted came true (vv. 9-10) and Saul’s prophesying got the attention of everyone who knew him (vv. 11-13). After an unassuming re-entry to family life (vv. 14-16), Saul was publicly revealed to be the king by Samuel (vv. 17-21). Saul knew he was about to be revealed as Israel’s new king—all of Samuel’s prophesies had come true, after all—so he hid himself to avoid being chosen (vv. 22-24), once again showing the humility with which he entered the office.

The final demonstration of Saul’s humility in this passage was demonstrated in verses 26-27. Some men volunteered because God had given them the desire to serve Saul (v. 26) but others questioned and overtly disrespected Saul (v. 27a). Yet, Saul did not retaliate or insist on being honored as king; instead he remained quiet (v. 27b).

This passage demonstrates once again what God is looking for in a leader. Although Saul had some of the physical characteristics that mark human leaders (9:1, 10:23-24), he was not well-born nor was he ambitious or attention-seeking. The Bible tells us over and over that God opposes those who are proud but is gracious to those who are humble. This is a good quality for anyone who finds himself in leadership or aspires to leadership because leadership is about serving, not about being served.

Still, position can corrupt someone who starts out well (as we’ll see later in Saul’s life), so we should never assume that because we started out humble we will have God’s favor for our whole lives. Humility is such an elusive quality; as soon as you feel satisfied the you have it, the odds are good that pride has actually started to take root in your heart. Keep your eyes on God and remember that leading his people is an opportunity that he entrusts to the humble. Remember, too, that the humility that got you chosen for leadership is necessary to keep you constantly serving in the will of God rather than acting like someone who feels he deserves to be served.

Joshua 18-19, Jeremiah 9

Read Joshua 18-19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Remember a few days ago when God commanded the people not to say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (7:4)? That chapter was about the spiritual pride of the people. Because they believed that God was in their city, they believed they were invincible.

This chapter is much sadder; tears recur throughout its verses. The pride of Judah would quickly flatten like air being let out of an inflated balloon as the Babylonians conquered the city of Jerusalem, despite “The temple of the Lord!” within its walls. This chapter prophesies of a judgment that was still future to Judah when it was given. God calls them to stop lying to themselves about their exceptionalism and get serious about their true spiritual condition. Sin ran through Judah like blood runs through your veins; yet God’s people were proud. Therefore, God promised them, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (v. 11).

The only thing God allows us to be proud about is him. Verses 23-24 say, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me….” But this is not pride in their intellect or insight; only God can give “understanding to know” him and he gives it according to his will, to those who are humble and repentant, by his grace.

Also, note that just slapping God’s name on your beliefs is nothing to be proud about. Instead, the proper boast of the believer is in the knowledge of God as he truly is. Verse 24c-f says, “‘that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” Kindness is foreign to sinful hearts filled with hate. Justice and righteousness are foreign concepts to guilty sinners before a holy God. Only the grace of God can cause us to love and be proud of God as he really is. Once we know him, though, we have what we need to weather the problems of life, even if the strongholds we trust (“the temple of the Lord!”) are thrown down in front of us.

Numbers 35, Isaiah 27, Psalm 140

Read Numbers 35, Isaiah 27-28, Psalm 140.

This devotional is about Numbers 35.

Murder is one of the world’s oldest sins. Despite its antiquity, it remains as gruesome and painful for the survivors as it was when Cain killed Abel. Revenge is a natural reaction for the survivors of the one who was murdered, but sometimes people die due to accidents or negligence.

What is the just response in these cases? On one hand, the family of the one who died is still deprived of his or her life, so does it really matter whether their loved one was killed intentionally or unintentionally?

God says yes, it does matter.

He designated cities of refuge for those who killed someone unintentionally (vv. 6-13). That would keep the land of Israel from being dominated by violence and bloodshed anytime someone died under suspicious circumstances. But for those who committed murder—they killed because they intended to kill (v. 20: “with malice aforethought”)—the Bible prescribes capital punishment as the appropriate means of justice (v. 16b, 17b, 18b, 19b, 21b: “the murderer is to be put to death”).

Although many Christians are proponents of capital punishment, too many of us miss the limits the Bible puts on it. Verse 30 of our text says, “Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” That verse sets forth a very high standard of proof.

Often there are no witnesses at all to murder. If one person witnessed the murder, Moses’ law did not permit the killer to be executed.

A situation where two or more people witnessed a murder is highly unusual, yet that’s the standard of evidence the Old Testament law required before capital punishment could be administered. That is because human life is special; as human beings, we bear the image of God and have eternal souls.

It is deeply evil to take another person’s life but to do it as punishment without a strong standard of proof is reckless and often unjust. The Innocence Project has exonerated many people who were unjustly executed or wrongly convicted of murder. Today’s passage here in Numbers 35 suggests that capital punishment needs to be reformed here in America. While I believe that modern evidence like DNA matching or video surveillance can and should replace the standard 2 or more eyewitnesses required in this passage, the point of the eyewitnesses was to establish absolute proof of guilt before taking a man’s life.

If you support the death penalty from biblical conviction—and I do—your biblical conviction should also insist that anyone who is executed must have been convicted based on near certainty, not just “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To take an innocent human life in punishment is just as murderous and evil in God’s sight as first degree murder is.

Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, Psalm 133

Read Numbers 28, Isaiah 19-20, and Psalm 133.

This devotional is about Psalm 133.

This Psalm praises unity. When God’s people worship him together, serve one another in love, and resolve their problems with each other biblically, that is both pleasing to God and a pleasant environment to be in.

It is also a difficult environment to create and the songwriter acknowledged that. When verse 3 says, “It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” These places are unfamiliar to us so let me just tell you briefly that Mt. Hermon is way up North of Israel, far beyond the sea of Galilee while Mt. Zion is in the South part of Israel in Judah. So if the dew of Mt. Hermon fell on Mt. Zion, that would be a miracle. It can’t happen naturally because they are hundreds of miles apart. The author here is saying that when God’s people live together in unity, it is like a miraculous provision, something only God can do.

In verse 2, the songwriter told us more about unity. The “precious oil” described in this section was the anointing oil that set Aaron apart to serve as God’s high priest. It was a blessing from God to serve in that priestly role and the anointing also promised God’s power.

Put these images together and we see that Psalm 133 is saying that unity among God’s people is a blessing from God that requires his power (v. 2) in a nearly miraculous way (v. 3). When God’s people are unified, then, God is glorified because only he has the power to cause people to be unified and it takes his miraculous work for it to happen.

We need to remember this when we have conflicts with one another. Conflicts are usually connected to pride from one or both people involved in the conflict. Only the blessing and power of God can keep us from going at each other’s throats. So, when you have a conflict to resolve, it is time to pray for God to work and glorify himself by ending the controversy and repairing the relationship.

Is there anyone in your life that you need to have a difficult conversation with them? Ask God to prepare your own heart and the heart(s) of the other party to bring about this miracle of unity.

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 12-13, Isaiah 2, Psalm 119:145-176

Read Numbers 12-13, Isaiah 2, Psalm 119:145-176.

This devotional is about Numbers 12

It is more than a little ironic that Moses is the author of Numbers and that he wrote verse 3, “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” The humblest man on earth wrote in holy scripture about how humble he was. The first literary instance of the humblebrag.

Not really, of course, because the Holy Spirit inspired him to write that, so we reading God’s assessment of Moses, not his self-assessment. There is plenty of evidence of his humility, too, such as how he resisted the Lord’s call to lead Israel and how he insisted that God blot him out of the book of life if the Lord blotted Israel out of it. Despite how powerfully God used him to lead, then, he truly was a humble man, someone who did not have an inflated view of himself.

His brother and sister did not have the character trait of humility. We can see that in verse 2 where they said to each other, “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’” The implication of their words is that they were co-equal leaders with Moses. If they didn’t like his wife (v. 1), then he should be held accountable to them.

The problem is that God had chosen Moses directly and had commanded him to lead Israel. Aaron and Miriam were called to supporting roles under Moses’s leadership. Although it was true that God had spoken through Aaron and Miriam, he had not spoken to them in the same way that he had spoken to Moses (v. 8). They were way out of line, then, when they tried to exercise equal authority to Moses. Moses, being the humble man that he was, waited for God to take up his cause instead of defending himself. Moses was not disappointed because God did in fact speak up to defend him (v. 4: “At once the Lord said…”).

Two issues of application come to mind when I read this passage.

  • First, stay in your lane! God has called us to each to different responsibilities and has invested in us different levels of authority. If your leader is in sin, then you should confront him (Gal 6). If you think he is making a bad decision, you can “appeal to him as a father” (1 Tim 5:1). But most of the time, it is our job to follow the leaders God has given to us, not to question or rebuke them. Whenever we speak to someone we are supposed to follow or serve in a way that presumes equal or greater authority to that person, we have shown a level of pride that is not pleasing to God.
  • Second, let the Lord fight your battles for you. Humanly speaking, Moses had every right to defend himself but he did not. Because of his humility, Moses allowed God to take up his cause and vindicate Moses. The New Testament urges us to follow that pattern ourselves. Romans 12:19 commands us, “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.” It takes real humility to let God fight for you when you are being mistreated or your authority is being usurped. Instead of fighting for ourselves, justifying our actions and angrily denouncing our opponents, what if we trusted God enough to let him handle the situation?

So what’s the state of your humility. The title of humblest man ever is taken but each of us can and should follow Moses’s example in our own lives. If you are a follower, be a good follower and stay in your lane. If you are a leader and you know what you are doing is right before the Lord, let him handle the criticism and and fallout that comes your way.

This is pleasing to God because it puts all our cries for justice in his righteous hands to execute.