Judges 8, Jeremiah 21

Today we’re reading Judges 8 and Jeremiah 21.

This devotional is about Judges 8.

Gideon was a very reluctant leader from the beginning of God’s call on his life. Although he stepped up to the demands of leadership in verses 1-21 of today’s chapter, he didn’t fundamentally change. After he did what God commanded him to do, he retired as Israel’s judge and committed Israel’s further leadership to the Lord (v. 23).

But, before leaving the scene, he accepted a large amount of gold from the jewelry taken from the dead Midianites Israel had defeated (vv. 24-26). Verse 27 told us that “Gideon made the gold into an ephod” which is a garment worn by the priests when serving the Lord or asking for Him to reveal his will. Our passage doesn’t tell us why Gideon did that, but it is very possible that Israel’s priesthood was not functioning well. In Judges 17 we’ll read about a man who hired a Levite to be his priest and in Judges 20 we’ll read about God’s people going to the ark to inquire of the Lord. That’s really about all we find of the formal aspects of worship in Judges. So Gideon may have made this ephod to assist his own personal worship of God.

Whatever his reason for making it, the ephod became an object of disobedient worship for Gideon, his family, and Israel. Verse 27c says, “All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family.” Instead of being something that honored the Lord, it became a means by which people broke the first two commandments.

This is why God commanded his people not to make graven images in the Second Commandment. Graven images can become “other gods” by which some people break the first commandment. Anytime we give more reverence to an object of worship than we give to God, we are in the territory of idolatry. It might be a cross on a pendant or hung on the wall, a painting or stained glass window of Jesus, water from the Jordan river, the elements of communion, the old Bible of a family member or loved one, or the writings of some Christian author that we study more carefully than we do God’s word itself.

Is there anything that started out as a reminder of God that has taken on too much reverence for you? Is there anyone who has become more authoritative in your life than God’s word? Are you more likely to ask for the advice of a trusted Christian pastor/teacher/friend than to ask God directly for wisdom? Don’t let tools for serving the Lord become more important than the Lord himself.

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 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 16, Isaiah 6, Psalm 122.

This devotional is about Numbers 16.

Back in Numbers 12, Moses faced opposition from his own brother and sister. They challenged his authority to lead because the Lord had spoken through them just as he had spoken through Moses (12:1-2).

Here in Numbers 16, Moses and Aaron were opposed by some of the Levites led by Korah (vv. 1, 3). Their objection was that, “The whole community is holy” (v. 3c). They went on to charge Moses and Aaron with elevating themselves above the people (v. 3f). So their argument was, “We’re all God’s chosen people and we’ve all been redeemed from Egypt by God’s power and have been promised a new land. Who are you, Moses and Aaron, that you’ve assumed authority over us?

Just as he did in Numbers 12, Moses did not defend himself; instead, he called on God to defend him by accepting an incense sacrifice either from Korah and his guys or from Aaron (vv. 16-18). God was willing to punish the entire nation for this rebellion (v. 21, and later, v. 45) but Moses and Aaron interceded with the Lord on behalf of the people (vv. 22, ). God’s punishment did fall on Korah and his rebellious followers (vv. 31-35) and on some of the people through a plague (v. 49) but he was merciful to the nation as a whole in answer to the prayers of Moses and Aaron.

This story brings up a few important points to consider:

  1. The Bible teaches that every believer is a priest (1 Pet 2:5) just as Korah suggested in verse 3. But the Bible also teaches that God has given leaders for the good and growth of his people (Eph 4:11-13). Leaders must lead in truth and humility but, if they are doing that, then God’s people must follow them.
  2. Moses had the right attitude toward opposition which was to let God deal with it. He was confident that God would vindicate him and God responded accordingly to his faith.
  3. Godly leaders will intercede for God’s people even when God’s people are difficult and disbedient to their leaders. Given all the problems they had faced, you would think that starting over would be an appealing idea to Moses, Aaron, and their families. But it was not because they loved God’s people and wanted them to obey and prosper by the Lord’s grace.

How is your level of humility when it comes to spiritual leaders? Are you someone who thinks leadership belongs to you or do you see leadership as an opportunity to glorify God and to reflect the glory of God to others? Moses had the humility to lead well. As a follower, do you have the humility to listen well to your leaders and follow them? If you are a leader, will you love and pray for the people you lead even if they are out to get you?

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

The previous chapters in this book explained the various offerings God had commanded his people to bring (Lev 1-7), the dedication of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8), and the beginning of their service to the Lord on behalf of Israel (Lev 9). Their ministry had just begun and, here in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons broke the Law of Moses and displeased God with “unauthorized fire” (v. 10).

What exactly they did wrong is not explained to us. It could have been incorporating some pagan worship element in the offering. It could have been that they were drunk when making the offering (which maybe why verses 8ff are in this chapter). It could have been that they entered the Most Holy Place even though it was not the Day of Atonement. We just don’t know specifically what they did but whatever it was, it was done in willful disobedience to God’s word. This is why God acted as swiftly as he did. Instead of fearing the Lord and doing their ministry in that spirit, they attempted to worship God in an unholy way.

Moses responded swiftly and told Aaron and all the other priests exactly what to do next. This was to re-enforce that Nadab and Abihu were completely in the wrong and to keep the other priests from compounding the sin by disobeying God’s commands in other ways while they served as priests.

Still, despite Moses’s best efforts to keep the priests on an obedient path, they broke God’s law in verses 16-18 by not eating “the sin offering in the sanctuary area” (vv. 17-18). Moses was angry about this, too (v. 16) and confronted the priests about this violation. Aaron spoke up for the others and asked, given the fact that “such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” That satisfied Moses (v. 20) and no punishments resulted.

But what exactly did Aaron mean by, “such things as this have happened to me…”?

To answer that question, we must remember that Aaron was ordered not to grieve the death of his sons while he was on duty as a priest (vv. 6-7). These orders were directed at the outward signs of mourning; they were forbidden from tearing their clothes or allowing their hair to become disheveled which was a common way of showing mourning.

Although Moses commanded them not to mourn externally, they were of course sad and distraught on the inside, both due to the sin of Nadab and Abihu and due their deaths. So Aaron’s response to Moses in verse 19 seems to have meant something like, “We fulfilled our duties to the Lord as priests despite the sorrow we have. The only part we didn’t complete was the part that benefited us, eating the meat from the offering. Because we are mourning, none of us felt like eating. Since the meal is supposed to be for our benefit anyway, is God really displeased that we didn’t eat it? Would God have been glorified if we feasted away while our hearts were breaking?” If that’s what Aaron meant, it is a compelling argument and, therefore, not surprising that Moses was satisfied by it.

The most important part of what Aaron said, however, is totally clear: “Would the Lord have been pleased…?” His motives for allowing the sin offering to be consumed like the burnt offering instead of eaten were to glorify God. In every other circumstance, he would have obeyed God’s directions completely but, given these circumstances, it would be more glorifying to God for them to fast rather than eat the meal as if nothing were wrong.

The truth of this passage, then, is that the motives behind what you do for the Lord matter more than what you do for the Lord. This is something the Old Testament prophets emphasized and Jesus spoke about often as well. It is never right to disobey God because of your feelings; but there are times when it is not totally clear what the best way to glorify God is. In those times, one should seek to honor God and act in a way that is consistent with trying to honor God.

From time to time people in our church ask me about various ethical dilemmas they have. Things like:

  • Should I attend a baby shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock, especially if the mother is unrepentant? It isn’t the baby’s fault, but does it send a wrong message?
  • Should I attend the wedding of someone who professes Christ but is marrying an unbeliever? What if I’m not really convinced that the professing believer truly knows Christ?

These and other situations call for wisdom and they bring stress (and distress) to many conscientious believers. Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I try to reason aloud with the person asking the question from clear Scriptural truths and see if any seem to apply in the situation they are asking about.

Often, though, it ends in a judgment call. A passage like this gives us some comfort. If we are seeking to please the Lord–not to justify or excuse a sin that we really want to do but earnestly seeking to please him–then that matters more to God than scrupulous obedience to his commands from a cold heart.

Are you facing any tough decisions where the right thing to do is not 100% clear despite the fact that you’ve sought counsel from the Lord and from godly people? Take comfort that God knows your motives and that he is gracious and merciful to us, especially when we want to please him.

Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76

Today’s readings are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, Psalm 76.

This devotional is about Exodus 28.

Exodus 28 described the uniform that the priests were to wear. Most of the garments that made up this uniform were for all the priests when they ministered in the Holy Place (vv. 43). Some pieces were reserved for only the high priest to wear (v. 15). Besides a description of each piece in the uniform, this chapter tells us the following:

  • The purpose of these garments was to give them “dignity and honor” (vv. 2, 40).
  • The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones and warn over the priest’s heart (vv. 9-12).
  • The breast piece was designed to make decisions for Israel and that was to be warn “over his heart before the Lord” (v. 30).

The names of Israel’s tribes were inscribed on stones which were warn over the priest’s heart. This should have helped him be conscious of what he already knew which is that he represented the people before God. Every time he put on the ephod, he had something tangible to remind him of his responsibility for all of Israel’s people. Likewise, every time he put on the breast piece, he had a physical reminder that God was the king of Israel and he was making the decisions for his people. Still, the best human priest could only imperfectly remember the people and his responsibility to them and the Lord and his way of revealing his will.

Aaron was a man, just like every other priest. As a man, he felt responsible for the work he was supposed to do. But he also experienced the concerns of everyday life–anxiety, perhaps, fear, loneliness, doubt, greed, envy, lust, and more. There were some times and some priests, I’m sure, where very little thought was given to the people or to the Lord’s will because the priest was preoccupied with his own stuff.

Jesus, our perfect priest, however, did not suffer from the sinful and/or selfish concerns that every other priest wrestled with as he did his duty for God. Jesus needed no reminder that his priestly ministry was for the people. The Bible tells us that his people were chosen by name to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Jesus was able to reveal God’s will like no other priest because he was God in the flesh. He did not need the Urim and Thummim over his heart to know and be conscious of God’s will; he knew God’s will intimately because he was the one willing it. Likewise, he did not need a reminder of the people whose sins he atoned for because he knew perfectly and completely each one of us. As the perfect man, because of his divinity, he was and is able to be our perfect priest without being distracted by his own human “stuff.” Instead of bearing a category representing us over his heart, he made atonement for and intercedes for us because we are in his heart.

Praise Jesus for fulfilling the symbols in this passage perfectly as our great high priest.

Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, Psalm 9

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 9-10, Ezra 9, and Psalm 9.

This devotional is about Ezra 9.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Sometimes you don’t get a choice; Ezra didn’t get one.

Things were going well in Jerusalem, finally. God’s people were back in the Promised Land, they were rebuilding God’s temple and had a new priest teaching the law and calling people to obedience. They had cash to pay for the work and had just received God’s protection as a large group of them returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in Ezra 8. That was the good news, after long last.

Now the family leaders of Israel came to Ezra with “the bad news.” And, it was terrible news–the people of Israel had disobeyed God’s commands and had married women from the unbelieving nations around them (v. 1-2). As if that kick to the gut wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a steel-toed boot carrying tetanus: “And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” The men who should have been teaching and warning and leading by example against this sin were instead the trendsetters in Israel.

I’ll be honest with you; had I been in Ezra’s situation, my instinct would be to distance myself from it. If we were there, you might have heard me say, “That’s on you. May God deal with you for it. It isn’t my fault you disobeyed.” Well…, I would have been speaking Hebrew, so it would have sounded much different than that to you. But, the point is, I would be inclined to move away from this issue.

Ezra was a much better spiritual leader than I am. [I can imagine your collective statements of, “Duh!”] He was offended on God’s behalf about this (vv. 3-4). But, instead of denouncing the people like a prophet would, he led them in national repentance owning their sins with his language:

  • “OUR sins are higher than our heads” (v. 6)
  • “OUR guilt has reached to the heavens” (v. 6)
  • “WE have forsaken the commands you gave (vv. 10b-11)
  • “Here WE are before you in OUR guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence.”

Did Ezra really believe himself to be guilty of this? Did he really think–given that he knew about Noah and Lot–that God would include Ezra in his judgment if it came? Of course not. But, he was a priest not a prophet. It was his job to reconcile the people with God.

And, Ezra knew that God’s people were interconnected. In order for God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, David and the whole nation to happen, the nation had to survive so that God would bless it. That’s a main reason why God gave the command not to intermarry–so that Israel would survive as an independent nation instead of being absorbed into other nations and cultures. Think about the other nations listed in verse1: “the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.” Only the Egyptians remain from that list. The rest were absorbed into other nations through intermarriage just like this. Israel remains to today, too, but this disobedience could easily have caused Israel’s extinction. Furthermore, intermarriage with other nations and cultures would have corrupted Israel’s worship just as Solomon worshipped other gods to please his foreign wives.

We’re not ethnically interconnected like Israel was but we are interconnected with one another spiritually. It goes against the culture of “rugged individualism” that we’ve inherited as Americans* but we are the body of Christ. The legs of a person’s body may be strong enough to run a marathon but if that person has a heart attack while running, the whole body dies. Even those strong, tan legs will fall.

So, sins that are widespread among our church body affect us all. We need each other and God has given us the ability through spiritual gifts to help one another. But we can also harm one another. One aspect of spiritual leadership, then, is to lead in what might be called “corporate repentance” for widespread disobedience in a church, a family, or any other group of professing believers.

*Apologies to those who read this in Kingston, Ontario and elsewhere in the world.

Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7

Today we’re reading Genesis 7, Ezra 7, Psalm 7.

This devotional is about Ezra 7.

Isn’t it interesting that this book of the Bible is named after someone who doesn’t appear until chapter 7? And, the book of Ezra only has 10 chapters, so the man Ezra is absent from most of it.

And yet, it is fitting that this book is named after Ezra because Ezra, we will see, was given by God to be a key spiritual leader for Israel. Verses 1-5 told us that Ezra had the human pedigree needed to hold the office of priest (see also verse 11: “Ezra the priest”). This was important because of God’s commands about the office of priest. But, one could be humanly qualified to be a priest without actually being a true spiritual leader. Eli’s sons from another era are an example of that.

So what made Ezra special? Well, the grace of God of course. But, in keeping with that grace, Ezra prepared himself. Before he showed up in Jerusalem to be a spiritual leader in Israel, he “was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given” (v. 6b). Ezra prepared to teach God’s word before he showed up to serve as a leader of God’s people.

That preparation is elaborated on in verse 10. How did he become the man verse 6 says was “well versed in the Law of Moses”? According to verse 10a, he “had devoted himself to the study… of the Law of the Lord.” He put in the time; he was in the word himself.

That’s not all though, because verse 10 goes on to say, “Ezra had devoted himself to the… observance of the Law of the Lord.” That means he obeyed it himself. After he learned what it said, Ezra abided by it in the way that he lived his life. Only then did he devote himself “to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (v. 10c).

This is the pattern that any and every one of us who leads spiritually must follow. We must be in the word personally, applying it personally and obeying it personally before we teach it to others. If we try to teach without study, we will lead people to error and false doctrine. If we study without application, we will be exposed as hypocrites, creating a crisis of credibility for ourselves and causing some who follow us to stumble.

Are you an elder in our church? A deacon or deaconess? A Calvary Class teacher? An AWANA leader? A parent? Almost everyone of us is leading someone in some way. May the Lord use Ezra’s method of preparation for leadership to call us to prepare well before we speak in God’s name.