Joshua 20-21, Jeremiah 10

Read Joshua 20-21 and Jeremiah 10.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 10:23-25.

Here we are, ten chapters into the prophecies of Jeremiah and many more chapters to go. And what have we been reading? Condemnation of sin and predictions of judgment, mostly.

Chapter 10 here is no exception. God spoke to his people (v. 1a) urging them to stop following the idolatry of other nations (vv. 2-5, 8-11) and instead to fear God (vv. 6-7) the true God (v. 10) and creator of all things (vv. 11-16). So, verses 1-16 hit the “condemnation of sin” button pretty hard.

Beginning in verse 17, the “predictions of judgment” began. You might as well pack up and leave now (v. 17) because you’ll be leaving one way or the other (v. 18).

After all this, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord in verses 23-25. He did not ask God to reconsider his plan for judgment or try to make a case that his people were undeserving of God’s wrath. Instead, he humbly submitted himself to the will of God (v. 23) and asked God to use the coming problems as an act of discipline, not anger (v. 24). Finally, he asked for God’s wrath to fall on Israel’s enemies for their sins against God’s people (v. 25).

What strikes me here in this section (vv. 23-25) is the tender-hearted humility of Jeremiah. Despite being a faithful prophet of God and a godly man, he knew that this life was not perfect before God. Instead of asking God to focus on “the real sinners” out there first, he asked for God to bring the loving hand of discipline into his own life, breaking his will and his sin-patterns without personally breaking him apart (v. 24c). This is an attitude far from our natural inclination to feel that God has treated us unjustly if something unpleasant comes into our lives. It shows his reverence for God, a recognition of God’s absolute lordship over everyone (v. 23).

Is this the attitude you bring to your walk with God? Have you ever asked God to discipline you, to purge out from our heart and your life anything that displeases him? It is a scary thing to ask for because God’s discipline can be very painful. Yet, as a loving Father, we can trust him not to pulverize us as he does his enemies, but to deliver a healing wound, like a surgeon does. When the doctor cuts a person open to remove the cancer from his body, a painful wound results and, even after that heals, a permanent scar is often left behind. Yet we thank the surgeon for healing us instead of complaining about the wound and the scars.

So it is with our Lord. When he hurts his children, it is for our ultimate good, our spiritual growth, to strengthen us to live more holy lives. May we emulate the prayer of Jeremiah in those moments of pain.

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.

Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59

Read Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 59.

This devotional is about Isaiah 59.

What is wrong with our society, our culture? Read these words from Isaiah 59:9-11: “justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away” (vv. 9-11).

Do you feel like those words describe our society?

I do. Truth and righteousness are endangered species. Justice is a label that is slapped on to all kinds of counterfeit causes. People make choices in life like someone “feeling [his] way like people without eyes” (v. 10b).

How did we get here? For Judah, verses 12-13 explain that “our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God….” As a result, “justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (vv. 14-15).

Although America is not Israel and Christians do not inherit all the promises made to the Jews, these verses address universal truths. God is our Creator; he created the world to function in righteousness according to his standards and laws. All humanity has rejected his word and we stand separated from him (vv. 2-3). Therefore, we do not have his light, his truth, a consistent standard of righteousness and justice, so we grope about in moral and ethical darkness.

America has had times of revival which turn back some of these sinful things for a time and that could happen again. But we will never escape the problems we have as a society; we need to be redeemed from them by the grace of our Lord Jesus when his kingdom comes. There will be punishment as God defends his cause (vv. 15-18) but there will also be grace and salvation (v. 19).

Read these words; they are so gracious and hopeful: “From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory” (v. 19). And then God will save his people along with us: “‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,’ declares the Lord” (v. 20). This is another promise, another prophecy that Jesus will reign as king. Then we will live in a society that is truthful, righteous, just, and good. Why? Because we will be transformed, our sins removed: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord.”

Until that day comes, we are here like exiles praying for Christ’s kingdom to come but also warning people of his coming judgment and asking God to give repentance and salvation to them. This is your job and mine as servants of the Lord. Are you ready to speak gospel truth to someone you meet today?

Deuteronomy 11, Isaiah 39

Read Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

This devotional touches on both Deuteronomy 11 and Isaiah 39.

In Isaiah 39 a delegation from Babylon came to visit Hezekiah. Their mission was was peaceful and was designed to create goodwill between the two nations (v. 1). Hezekiah was eager (probably too eager) to welcome them and he showed them all of the material blessings God had given him (v. 2) making reconnoissance easy for the Babylonians who would soon become Judah’s enemy.

God used the occasion of their visit to send a message through Isaiah prophesying of the coming Babylonian captivity (vv. 6-7). Hezekiah was untroubled by the prophecy because it would be fulfilled after his death. As verse 8 said, “‘The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,’ Hezekiah replied. For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my lifetime.’” His viewpoint was self-centered and short-term in its focus. Instead of being concerned about Judah receiving the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel for many generations, Hezekiah only cared to know that there would be tranquility during his kingdom and lifetime.

Contrast Hezekiah’s attitude with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 11. While Moses was certainly concerned with the faithfulness and fruitfulness of the current generation (vv. 8-18), he also urged the current generation to pass on what they had seen and learned about God to the next generation (vv. 2, 5, 19-21).

All of us who love the Lord here in the church age should think this way, too. Unfortunately, many Christians do not and some of the common problems churches experience are the result of short-term thinking like Hezekiah’s. The more mature you are in Christ, the more you should care about the salvation and spiritual growth of young people. Of course the church should minister to every age group, but it should focus most on ministry to families. When you are a child, a teen, a young adult, and a parent with children, the church should be optimized to to minister to you. As your children become adults, they should, by God’s grace, be moving more and more toward leadership and service in the church. Then, the older you get, the more your growth in Christ and personal maturity should point you toward reaching and discipling the next generation.

Often, though, there becomes inter-generational conflict in the church. This is where some of the “worship wars” come from but also the inability of the church to prune ministries that once were effective but are now no longer serving a good spiritual purpose. A church can easily be born, grow strong, and then decline (or even die) in a 20 year span because it only ministers to one generation. People in that generation are content, even complacent, that the church offers “peace and security in my lifetime” (Is 39:8b) and so, like Hezekiah, they are unconcerned about what will come after them.

When you think about our church, are you looking to see if young people coming through our youth group stick around and get involved as young adults? Does it give you joy to see those young adults marry, have children, and raise them in our church? Are you praying that some of them will become elders in the days ahead? Are you looking to be involved in some of our ministries to children or young adults so that you can pass on what you’ve learned in your walk with God to others who haven’t seen what you’ve seen?

Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143

Read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would they respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer than what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23). “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, Psalm 135

Read Numbers 30, Isaiah 22, and Psalm 135.

This devotional is about Isaiah 22.

Isaiah 22 is a prophecy against Judah and, more specifically, Jerusalem, Judah’s capital city. Isaiah refered to this area as “the valley of vision” which is a tough expression to interpret. It is tough because (a) Jerusalem is on a hill surrounded by valleys rather than being a valley or in a valley and (b) the people have no vision in the sense of knowing God’s revelation. As I mentioned, it is a hard expression to interpret; one commentator I consulted thought it might be ironic. Jerusalem was on a hill and should have seen (“vision”) the invasion that was coming but metaphorically it was in a moral and spiritual valley. Since they were in a metaphorical valley, they were unable to see God’s judgment coming for themselves. Therefore, God sent Isaiah with a vision of coming judgment which is described in this chapter.

Anyway, verse 10 directly referenced Jerusalem so we know that is what Isaiah is talking about. And, verse 10 says that they “tore down houses to strengthen the wall” around Jerusalem. They also “built a reservoir between the two walls” according to verse 11a. These both refer to preparations that were made to harden Jerusalem against attack.

Because they were confident in the preparations they had made against being attacked, the people of Jerusalem were having a party. Verse 13 says, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink,’ you say, ‘for tomorrow we die!’” Instead of repenting (“to weep and to wail,” v. 12) of their sin, they were taking joy and confidence in the human preparations they had made to withstand attacks from the Babylonians.

God’s message to them in verse 11 could be paraphrased as, “Yes, you made some smart moves to prepare for attack,” but, according to verse 11, “you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.” God’s people saw preparing for the attack as a tactical problem that could be solved with smart decisions instead of a spiritual problem that would only be solved with repentance and the grace of God.

We don’t face this kind of military attack as a judgment for our sins because we are not Israel. However, we do tend to look for human solutions rather than to God when we are faced with moral and spiritual problems. This text calls us, then, to look at the problems in our lives and then turn to God for help and favor in withstanding and overcoming those problems.

What problems are you facing in your life? Are you taking them to the Lord, asking for his help or are you looking for a better human solution? God brings problems to us that tear us down so that we will learn to put our faith solely in him.

Numbers 26, Isaiah 16, Psalm 131

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 16, and Psalm 131.

This devotional is about Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”

Moab was a nation on the other side (eastern) of the Jordan River from Israel. It was a nation that descended from Lot and his eldest daughter when they committed incest after the destruction of Sodom (see Genesis 19:37). Isaiah 15 &16 contain a prophesy against Moab but within those chapters lie one of the lesser-known prophecies of Christ here in Isaiah 16:5.

This prophecy about Christ began by saying, “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it.” The words “love” and “faithfulness” are parallel ideas referring to the same thing which is God’s covenant loyalty to David.

God made promises to David, called the Davidic covenant. In that covenant, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). This verse in Isaiah 16:5 repeated that promise (“one from the house of David,” v. 5c) because of God’s covenant loyalty. The last two phrases of the verse described the Messianic king God had promised to send: “one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness” (v. 5d, e).

The fulfillment of this promise is still in the future, even for us. When Jesus establishes his kingdom, Israel and the world will finally have a ruler who judges with justice and quickly does what is right. It will be an incredible contrast to the corruption, incompetence, and self-aggrandizement that is so common in political leaders today. Human society will flourish like it never has before because Jesus, our righteousness and righteous king, will be in charge forever.

Until that day, our job is to live faithfully, like citizens in exile, to the kingdom values Jesus taught us and to encourage others to prepare for the kingdom by submitting in faith to our king Jesus. As we keep the hope of a perfect, righteous, eternal home in our minds, it will help us to make godly choices in our lives and to speak the gospel message to those in the world around us.

Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

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!

Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, Psalm 59

Today’s readings are Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, and Psalm 59.

This devotional is about Exodus 11:1-12:21.

The most famous–and costly–of the ten plagues was prophesied to Pharaoh and the people of Israel in today’s readings. God promised, through Moses, that, “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (v. 5a). The prophecy was very serious and very specific.

So was the promise of deliverance. In fact, as I read this familiar passage of Scripture today, I was struck by how detailed the instructions were to those who believed God’s word about the firstborn sons. Verses 3-10 detailed specifically what must be done to save your firstborn son’s life:

  • The ratio of animals slaughtered to families was specific: one lamb per family (with some exceptions, v. 4) had to be killed and consumed (v. 3).
  • The animals slaughtered were specific: They “must be year-old males without defect” (v. 5b) and they could only be sheep or goats (v. 5b).
  • The date was specific: “the fourteenth day of the month” (v. 6a)
  • The time they were to be slaughtered was specific: “at twilight” (v. 6c).
  • The sign of their faith in God was specific: “take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (v. 7b).
  • The menu for this day was specific: no pizza that night; instead, “they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast” (v. 8).
  • The way the lambs were prepared was specific: “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs” (v. 9).
  • The way leftovers were handled was specific: “if some is left till morning, you must burn it” (v. 10).
  • The way the meal was eaten was specific: “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

Not one of these requirements had the spiritual or physical power to stop an angel from taking a boy’s life. The commands, though specific, were arbitrary. Death angels are not afraid of sheep blood on door posts or leftovers. But following the Lord’s instructions perfectly was important, for three reasons:

  • First, and foremost, the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb whose blood was placed over the door to one’s home looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice for us as our substitute. Being careless with God’s instructions would cause the symbolism that pointed to Christ to be fuzzy instead of clear.
  • Second, obedience to these instructions indicated genuine faith in God and his word. If you really believed that God was going to take the life of the firstborn son of every disobedient family, you would be very careful to do exactly what God said to do.
  • Third, these instructions would provide the template for the annual observance of the Passover. They gave Israel a specific way to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance for many generations to come.

Now, what does any of this have to do with us Christians? In a general sense, this passage shows us the importance of paying attention to the specifics of God’s word. But, in a more …uh… specific sense, we don’t observe the Passover as Christians because Christ fulfilled the law on that and every other point.

But remember that the lamb and its blood were mere symbols. They had no inherent spiritual power; they merely demonstrated that someone believed God’s word and pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ. So, in the Christian era, isn’t that a lot like baptism? The water of baptism has no inherent power but those who believe in Jesus will be obedient by following his command to be baptized because water baptism symbolizes important spiritual realities about our identification with Jesus’s death burial and resurrection. The Passover lamb pointed toward the death of Christ; baptism points back to it. Both symbols are evidence of faith in God.

These days, however, some people don’t think baptism is very important. They want to change the meaning of it as a symbol by baptizing babies with a different mode besides immersion. And I’ve met some who profess faith in Christ who have never been baptized and don’t seem to think it is very important.

There is no death angel killing firstborns in this age of grace, thankfully. But isn’t just as important, if we believe God’s word, to follow his detailed instructions carefully? If you’re trusting Christ but have never been baptized, let the example of the Israelites at Passover be your guide. If you have been careless about something else God has instructed Christians to do, think about how carefully Israel followed God’s instructions in this passage.

Then go and do likewise, not because you fear losing your firstborn son, but because you fear and love God and want to keep his commands.