Deuteronomy 16, Isaiah 43

Read Deuteronomy 16 and Isaiah 43.

This devotional is about Isaiah 43.

In this chapter God calls his people to follow him. He promised his presence with them and urged them not to fear (v. 1). He said that he would preserve them through problems and trials (vv. 2-3). He told them he loved them (v. 4) and reminded them that they were witnesses to the world that he was the true God in opposition to other so-called gods (vv. 9-13).

Despite all of this grace, God bemoaned the fact that his people did not worship him (vv. 22-24). Instead of “burdening” God with worship, God told his people that, “you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (v. 24). All of this demonstrates how deep our depravity is. God pours grace after grace, promise after promise on us; instead of smothering God with praise, thanks, and worship, we prefer idols and weigh the Lord down with our sins.

Thankfully, verse 25 reminds us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” This is the most immediately important promise for us in this life. Despite the weight and enormity of our sins, God graciously forgives them all. And why does he do this? Because of his love? Yes, but in the immediate context he told us that forgiveness is granted “for my own sake.” It is part of the immutable nature of God to be compassionate and forgiving. When God forgives us, he doesn’t demonstrate weakness; he shows us the enormous strength of his character.

What is the worst sin you’ve ever forgiven someone for? What about the worst sin that God has ever forgiven for you? Does God’s forgiveness open your heart to him in thanks and worship?

Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, Psalm 150

Read Deuteronomy 9, Isaiah 37, and Psalm 150.

Today’s devotional is about Deuteronomy 9.

In this section of Moses’s sermon, he assured the Israelites that it was not their righteousness that caused God to favor them. Rather, it was simply a matter of God’s grace (vv. 1-4). The people they would displace in the promised land were receiving God’s wrath through Israel because of their sins (vv. 5-6) but Israel, too, was made up of sinners. As verse 6b said, “you are a stiff-necked people,” so God was not impressed by their moral quality either.

Moses then went on to recount some of Israel’s greatest moral failures. They made and worshiped a golden calf (vv. 7-21), angered the Lord “at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah” (v. 22), and rebelled when God commanded them to take the land the first time (vv. 23-24). Moses concluded his evaluation of Israel’s morals with these words, “You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.”

Remember that the people who sinned in these stories were actually the parents of the people Moses was speaking to now. Except for Caleb and Joshua, every one of the people Moses talked about in this chapter died in the desert due to their unbelief.

In verses 18-20 and again in verses 25-29 Moses described how he prayed for Israel when the people sinned in these incidents. On two occasions, Moses fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, asking God to spare these people from the justice they deserved. God partially answered Moses’s prayers. There were some casualties in these instances and, after Kadesh-Barnea (vv. 23-24), God sentenced everyone but Joshua and Caleb to die in the desert. But God was merciful in answer to the prayers of Moses; he did not kill everyone and he allowed most of the people after Kadesh-Barnea to live out the rest of their natural lives, so God answered Moses’s prayers in a real way.

Is there anyone in your life that you are interceding for? Someone who has never trusted Christ or someone who has professed Christ but is living in sin? If so, then you are acting much like Moses did in this chapter. In order to pray more like Moses, notice these characteristics of his intercessory prayer:

  • He reminded God of his promises–his covenant love–for these people: v. 26b: “…your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed…”).
  • He did not minimize or make excuses for their sin (v. 27b).
  • He spoke of the reputational damage that would result if God punished them now (v. 28).
  • He returned again to the special relationship God had chosen to promise these people (v. 29).

These characteristics focus on God not on the people. God was honored by Moses’s prayers because Moses prayed for mercy in terms of what God had promised and done. We, too, when we intercede for people would be wise to focus on God’s promises, even quoting his word back to him, when we pray.

God is pleased when we intercede for others. It gives us the opportunity to ask for and see God glorify himself when he answers our prayers and shows mercy to other sinners like us.

Who are you praying for? Are you asking for God’s mercy in terms of who God is and what he has promised?

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 35, Psalm 148.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah encouraged his reader to encourage others who belonged to God but were old and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths, that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10) were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers in their camps. These truths could be used to give spiritual strength and stability to believers (v. 3).

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” and, when he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people. Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 34, Psalm 147

Read Deuteronomy 6, Isaiah 34, and Psalm 147.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 6.

In this chapter, Moses taught the people of Israel the central idea of God’s law: love him (v. 5). Anyone who loves God will keep his commandments (hmmm… sounds like John 14:15). Alternatively, anyone who does not love God will have a hard time obeying the commandments with any consistency. This truth, from this chapter, is probably the best known thing about Deuteronomy 6. If you know any verse in Deuteronomy by heart, you almost certainly know Deuteronomy 6:5.

But notice verses 10-12. In that paragraph, Moses looked forward to the days when the people in front of him will finally have the land God promised them. After wandering impoverished in the desert since they were children, they would finally have prosperity and physical comforts. When that happens, Moses said, “…be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

One of the biggest challenges we face in our walk with God is forgetfulness. We forget the truths of God’s word we once knew so well. We forget to keep following the Lord when life is good. We forget how much God has done for us. We forget the promises and warnings of scripture. Once we forget, we become complacent about our lives, stop fearing God (v. 13) and become enamored with idols (v. 14). If you’ve ever found yourself doing sinful things you thought you’d never do or questioning doctrines you once believed wholeheartedly, you’ve experienced what it means to “forget the Lord.”

The only defense against forgetting and the only way back from it is to consciously remind yourself of and review God’s truth (vv. 7b-9)–who he is and what he’s done for us (v. 12b). We have the Word, the Lord’s supper (“in remembrance of me”), and the people of God to help remind us to keep following the Lord. These are the channels of God’s grace to us; if we ignore them or cut off their influence in our lives, we will soon find ourselves adrift in forgetfulness.

Have you forgotten what the Lord has said and done? After repentance, what steps or methods can you bring in to help you remember the Lord our God?

Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, Psalm 137

Read Numbers 32, Isaiah 24, and Psalm 137.

This devotional is about Numbers 32.

Have you ever made plans based on something someone else promised they would do? For instance, have you ever signed a purchase agreement to buy a home because you had a contract to sell your home to someone else? Every had that other person that you were counting on back out?

If so, then you know how painful it is to take someone at his word, make plans based on him keeping his word, then have to scramble when that person didn’t want to do what they said they would do.

That’s where Moses was here in Numbers 32 and why he was so mad at the Gadites and Reubenites in this chapter. For Israel to take the Promised Land, they needed their army at full strength. When the Reubenites and Gadites decided that they wanted to stay and occupy the land East of the Jordan (vv. 1-5), it seemed like a breach of trust, a refusal to do what all God’s people had believed God for and had agreed together to do. It looked to Moses like Kadesh Barnea, part 2 (vv. 6-13). Moses went so far as to call them “you brood of sinners” (v. 14) for not wanting to possess the land with the rest of the tribes of Israel.

People often make agreements and then break them without cause. Sometimes we cannot keep an agreement we’ve made because we have an illness or injury that makes it impossible or a financial setback that leaves us without the money we need to do what we said we’d do. In those cases, you haven’t broken your agreement; God allowed circumstances into your life that prevented you from keeping it. Other passages in scripture talk about what to do if you can’t keep an agreement you’ve made, but the basic principle of scripture is that God expects us to do what we’ve said we will do. When we decide to renege on an agreement we’ve made, we’ve acted contrary to the nature of our Father. He is faithful to his promises and always does what he said he would do. As we grow in Christlikeness, we should be more and more trustworthy and faithful to the promises and agreements we make to others.

Are you a man or woman of your word? When you say that you’ll do something, do you do it even if it is costly? Is there something you said you’d do that you’re thinking about backing out of today?

Ultimately Moses brokered a deal that allowed these tribes to have the land they wanted outside the Promised land while still helping the rest of God’s people to inherit the land (vv. 16-22). If Gad and Reuben refused to abide by the new agreement, they would “be sinning against the Lord” (v. 23). So are you and I if we do not keep our word to others.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, Psalm 125

Read Numbers 20, Isaiah 9:8-10:4, and Psalm 125.

This devotional is about Isaiah 10:1-2.

America is not Israel and the promises God made to Israel do not apply to any nation at all in this age. However, all of God’s laws teach some kind of principle and many of those principles are morals that transcend all cultures and would apply in any nation. God’s justice, for instance, is an absolute standard. Any nation, therefore, is responsible to create laws that are just and apply those laws justly.

An example is here in Isaiah 10:1 which says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.” The word “woe” is an expression of deep agony and it often is used of the pain that will come to those who fall under God’s judgment. Verse 1, then, is saying that those who make unjust laws will cry out in agony when they fall under the judgment of God.

Verse 2 gives some examples of unjust laws that Israel had made. Those examples are:

  • depriving the poor of their rights (to private property, to fair and righteous treatment)
  • withholding justice from the oppressed
  • taking advantage of widows and the fatherless.

These are all groups who have been weakened in one way or another. Being weak made them easy to take advantage of. Unscrupulous neighbors could take their property, for example, without fear of retaliation. Just laws, however, would stand opposed to that kind of theft and a just judge would apply that law justly and award damages to the poor person who was oppressed and taken advantage of by a rich neighbor.

Our American legal system, in theory at least, protects the poor and the rich alike. Both can have their day in court and, all other things being equal, should have a judge who will apply the law impartially.

But we have our favored and disfavored groups in this country, too. Christian bakers and florists, for instance, seem to find themselves at a disadvantage in recent years in court when they are sued for refusing to be hired for a “gay” wedding. This is just one example; I’m sure you can scan the news and find others.

I wonder if it ever occurs to lawmakers or judges that they will give an account to God about whether or not they have governed justly? Again, we are not Israel but justice is an attribute of God’s character and he demands that all people with power use it justly. So God will hold unjust Americans responsible and they will know true “woes” when they stand before a holy God.

But this also applies to us. If you are in a position of leadership and show favoritism or practice injustice, God sees it and will hold you accountable. Since God is just, we his children by faith should strive to be just in all that we do. Woe to us if we refuse.

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

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

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

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

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

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

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

Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, Psalm 118

Today’s readings are Numbers 5, Song of Songs 3, and Psalm 118.

This devotional is about Psalm 118.

Some churches begin their services on the Lord’s day by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Maybe you’ve said that to yourself when you need a little boost in the morning or when trying to drag a tired child out of bed.

That quotation comes from today’s reading, Psalm 118:24. And, theologically, there is everything right with saying that about any day.

But, Psalm 118:24 was not written to encourage us on any and everyday. That’s (maybe?) why the NIV translators went away from the translation you’re used to hearing and translated the verse as, “The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” That translation should get us to look at the context and see that “this very day” is a reference to verses 22-23 which say, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” You may recall that Jesus quoted the words of verse 22, “the stone the builders rejected…” in Luke 20:17 and applied them to himself. In that context, he was referring to the judgment he would bring in the future on those who rejected and killed him (see Lu 20:13-16).

What all of this means is that Psalm 118 is an end-times prophecy of Christ. It is a promise, a prediction, that God, in the person of Christ, will rescue his people (vv. 10, 14-17), establish his kingdom (with Christ himself as “the cornerstone” v. 22b), and bring them safely into that kingdom. THAT is the day the Psalmist looked forward to and called on his companions to rejoice about in verse 24. When that happens, our Lord will be worshipped, thanked, and praised by all of us that he has redeemed.

My understanding of this verse and these types of prophecies is that they were made for Israel and will be fulfilled literally for Israel but that we Gentiles, according to God’s eternal plan, have been grafted into the plan by God’s grace. This is the hope that we wait patiently for until Christ returns and begins the fulfillment of these words.

So, go ahead and encourage yourself by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” But realize that any rejoicing you do today will be just a taste of what God has planned for us in eternity. On THAT day, when Jesus establishes his kingdom on the unshakable cornerstone of himself, we’ll have so much more to rejoice about!

Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, Psalm 117

This devotional is about Numbers 4, Song of Songs 2, and Psalm 117.

This devotional is about Psalm 117.

This song is so short, it’s like a chorus. The themes in it are not unusual. A call/command to praise the Lord (v. 1) followed by the reason for praising the Lord (v. 2) and finally one last call to “praise the Lord” (v. 2c).

What is unusual about this little song is its universal focus. Those who are called to praise and worship the Lord are not the people of Israel but “all you nations” and “all you peoples” without any reference to Israel at all. One might ask, “Why are all notions commanded to praise the Lord? God hadn’t revealed himself to them as he had to Israel nor had he entered into a covenant with them. Verse 2’s description of God’s great love (2a) and eternal faithfulness (v. 2b) are usually tied to his covenant with Israel. Here, Israel is not mentioned and all the nations/peoples do not have that kind of covenant with God. So why does the Psalmist command Gentile nations to praise God when they don’t even know him? And, in what way has God shown love and to these Gentiles?

The answer is that before man sinned God entered into what theologians call a “covenant of works.” That refers to God’s command to Adam to subdue and cultivate the earth and to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth” meaning to populate it with people. Although Adam and Even sinned and humanity fell from the original holiness God created us to have, we are still responsible to him as our Creator to fill the earth, subdue it, and populate it with people. So, whenever anyone in any culture, land, or ethnicity works to provide for himself, marries and has children, that person is showing that they belong to and are responsible for the covenant of works. And God, for his part, keeps his promise to make the earth productive and fruitful as man works and subdues it and to provide children.

The appeal to worship the Lord in this song, then, is based on the instinctive way in which people participate in the covenant of works. By working to provide for themselves and having children, people demonstrate that they do know God and that they are responsible to him. The Psalmist calls them to go all the way and give God the worship he deserves for faithfully providing food for people who work for it and faithfully providing children.

In our fallen state, we suppress what we know to be true about God and distort his moral will to fit our tastes. So we can’t worship the Lord apart from God’s grace to us in Christ. But this passage shows us that humanity is still responsible to worship and thank the Lord for his love and faithfulness because he is our faithful, loving creator.

The application of this passage for us is simple: our message, the gospel, is for Gentiles, too. So is God’s judgment for those who don’t turn to him in this life. So don’t give up if an unbeliever says to you, why should I believe God’s message? What has he ever done for me? The answer is that he provides you with food daily and consistently blesses your family with love. People may say that they don’t know God or can’t be sure of him but the truth is that they know plenty about God. They know that he is powerful, that he is perfect, and that we are accountable to him. That last sentence means that humanity knows enough about God to damn their souls for eternity. That’s why this Psalm calls out to everyone.

When we call out to others with the gospel, we are giving them the only method they’ll ever have to worship God, please God, and know him. That is the only way they’ll ever be able to worship God as he commands us to do. Don’t shy away, then, from sharing the gospel; it is the only enabling God has given us to obey his commands.