Judges 1, Jeremiah 14

Read Judges 1 and Jeremiah 14.

This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land of promise, but not completely. Their territory was larger sometimes and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied everything God promised them.

Why not? Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) and Israel was still procrastinating when it comes to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later. Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point but when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage. God makes promises. God’s people believe and act on those promises and succeed until the challenge looks hard. Then they quit and settle for less than what God promised.

Do we ever do that? Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has. How much effort do we put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has. How much effort do we put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for us?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament (of all places) encourage generous giving to see God provide: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?

Deuteronomy 26, Isaiah 53

Read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26.

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14.

But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven.

Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for Christians today.

But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Deuteronomy 23, Isaiah 50

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 23 and Isaiah 50.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

The foundation of capitalism is the right to private property. The Bible affirms that right in the 8th commandment: “Do not steal” (Ex 20:15). So, any possession you have is yours, provided you acquired by righteous means such as building it, buying it, receiving it as a gift, or swapping it for something else of value.

Ownership and value are destroyed by theft so owners and producers of value have good reasons to defend what they own. But there is a difference between defending against theft and being stingy. A stingy person isn’t someone who defends what they have against theft; a stingy person is someone who hordes things for himself.

In this chapter, God specified some ways in which his people were to show generosity to each other. One of those ways was described in verses 24-25. If you’re hungry or just want a snack as you are walking by the vineyard or field of your neighbor, you may take some of what is growing there and enjoy it. That is neighborly generosity, according to God’s law. It is not stealing.

However, if you “put any in a basket” (v. 24c) or “put a sickle to their standing grain” (v. 25c), that is not allowed. That is stealing because in those cases, you would be helping yourself to a large share of their value without doing any work to plant or cultivate the vineyard or field. That violates another family’s private property, diminishes the value of their work and assets, and materially affects their livelihood.

The Lord’s intent here is to teach us to be generous to our neighbors, to share with them in ways that won’t substantially alter the living you make from your work. Maybe in your context, it means lending tools to someone who needs them. You might make your living with those tools but, in most instances, lending those tools to someone for a few hours to a day would be a generous thing to do. Another example, maybe, is helping a friend or another brother or sister in Christ fix or replace something in their home without charging for it, even if that’s how you make your living. This is particularly generous if the person you help is poor. If they call you every time something breaks and don’t want to pay, that is taking advantage of you and is tantamount to stealing. But, in smaller instances where we can help others, God wants us to be generous.

Are you a person who is stingy? Do you love to give and help others in need or are you always counting the cost? Faith in God should lead us toward generosity to others. This is an act of faith because, in generosity, we trust that God will provide for us and bless us when we are kind and generous to others. What opportunity might you have today to bless someone with generosity, meeting a need in their life that will cost you little to nothing but mean so much to them?

Deuteronomy 19, Isaiah 46

Read Deuteronomy 19 and Isaiah 46.

This devotional is about Isaiah 46.

This section of Isaiah was written before the Babylonians conquered Israel yet it prophesied the restoration of Israel from that Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). That exile happened because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry. As in other chapters of Isaiah that we’ve read, God reminded his people of his provision for them (vv. 3-4) and his superiority over other so-called “gods” (vv. 5-13). The purpose for this revelation was (1) to warn the people of Judah of coming judgment (v. 12), (2) to teach those who would read this later during that judgment not to follow the gods of the Babylonians (v. 1), and (3) to encourage God’s people with the promise of his restoration so that they would worship him instead of those false gods (v. 13).

In verse 12 Isaiah wrote, “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness….” This rebuke was for the people who were worshipping false gods. Whatever “piety” they thought they had was being measured by the wrong stick because they were, in fact, “far away from my righteousness.”

As Christians, we do not worship idols in complete unbelief as the people of Israel and Judah did; however, our wayward hearts are still charmed by idols despite our new birth and allegiance to Christ. When we are enamored with materialism, or the desire for recognition and status from others, or by a life of ease or of pleasure, or by countless other idols, we trade genuine worship of the true Creator God (v. 9) for man-made objects (vv. 6-7) that cannot help us when we need it (v. 7d-e). Idolatry is like trading in a genuine army officer for one of those little green plastic army men that kids play with. Idols don’t ask us to seek and desire holiness but they also are a cheap, impotent substitute for the true God.

What idols are you tempted by? Money? Materialism? Sex-appeal? Positions of power in this world’s corporate or government structures? Don’t let these cheap imitations turn your heart from the true God.

Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149

Read Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 8.

I have heard people who are encountering difficult times in their lives refer to that difficult period of time as “wandering in the wilderness.” That phrase is a metaphor drawn from Israel’s 40 years of literally wandering in the wilderness. Moses talked about that here in Deuteronomy 8. In verses 2-3, he described the reasons for that wilderness wandering. Those reasons were:

  • to humble the Israelites (v. 2b)
  • to test the Israelites in order to reveal whether or not they would keep God’s commands from the heart (v. 2c).
  • to teach the Israelites to rely on God (v. 3d).

If we think of times in our lives as wilderness wanderings, do we think about these purposes? Many times when we suffer we think that our suffering is has no purpose or we have a vague sense that our faith is being tested. These verses would challenge us to think more deeply about these problems. While this passage was not given to say that every problem or trial in life is like this, God’s ways do follow similar patterns. So it is appropriate, when we are suffering, to think about God’s reasons for bringing this suffering into our lives along the lines described in verses 2-3–to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.

Let’s focus on that third one, “to teach us.” Verse 3d tells us that God wanted to teach a very specific lesson which was that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This phrase relates to God’s miraculous gift of manna (v. 3b). The point of the lesson was that God would provide for his people if they trusted him and obeyed his word, even if they didn’t know how he would provide.

I am sure that it is hard to trust God when you have a credible fear of starving. With no food or access to the usual sources of food, a person may be tempted to curse God, to jettison faith, or to conclude that God does not exist. God and Moses wanted people to know that they needed to trust God to stay alive more than they needed everyday sources of food.

Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus also suffered in the desert. His suffering lasted 40 days rather than 40 years but he countered Satan’s first temptation by quoting this passage, Deuteronomy 8:3d. He knew well that it was more important to trust God the Father than it was to provide for his daily needs by any means necessary. When he refused to sin by turning stones into bread, he was depending on the promise that God the Father would provide for him if he trusted and obeyed God’s word.

Have you experienced a trial in your life that taught you to trust God and the promises of his word? If so, then you’ve seen him provide for you, not the miracle provision of manna but in some way showing himself faithful after you obeyed his word.

When we are tempted to sin, we need this message just as Jesus used this message when he was tempted to sin. Giving in to temptation might meet a need, relieve a problem, or satisfy a desire, but it is the opposite of trusting God. If you face temptation today, remember this–God has allowed this into your life to teach you to trust him. If you will trust him, he will provide for you just as he provided manna for Israel and angels to meet Jesus’s needs.

Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142

Read Deuteronomy 1, Isaiah 29, Psalm 142.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 1.

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law” (deutero = second, nomos = law). This book was written at the end of Moses’s life, just before Joshua took over and led Israel into the Promised Land. This book is like a long sermon on Israel’s history and the law God gave in Exodus. It explains to the new generation under Joshua what God has done for Israel and how he expects Israel to live as his chosen people.

This chapter begins with a brief overview of the previous 40 years of Israel’s history, starting with the diversification of Moses’s leadership to other judges. As Moses recounted the ordination of judges, he repeated his instructions to those judges in verses 16-17. In the middle of verse 17, he said this to Israel’s judges, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Anyone who is in a position of leadership will have to choose between doing what is right in God’s sight and doing what is best for the leader’s own career or prosperity. Powerful people are used to getting what they want. Either they get what they want because of their reputation or they get what they want because they intentionally use their leverage with threats or promises of good things (aka “bribes”). Anyone who wants to be liked, who wants to be influential, who wants to prosper will be tempted at some point to look the other way in a matter of righteousness and justice to give favor to someone with influence.

I know a pastor who signed a contract with an organization then broke his commitment to that organization because someone of influence in his congregation wanted him to do something else. When weighing the consequences, he chose the powerful over doing what is right.

I can sympathize; any leader will have to face this choice in some way or other. The only antidote is to fear God more than you fear the powerful. As Moses said in verse 17, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God.”

Will you do what is right even when it is costly and disadvantages you in some important way? Can you trust God to provide for you through the cost and disadvantages?

Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, Psalm 136

Read Numbers 31, Isaiah 23, and Psalm 136.

This devotional is about Psalm 136.

Maybe this isn’t an issue anymore, but people used to complain that contemporary worship songs are too repetitive. I actually agree for the most part with that complaint and we try in our worship service to limit repetition that has no purpose.

Nevertheless, Psalm 136 is kind of repetitive; it contains the refrain, “His love endures forever” in every verse, after every other line of text. Perhaps this was written to be a “call and response” type of song where one group sang a line and another group responded with, “His love endures forever.”

Despite the repetitions, there is plenty of truth to consider in this song. The song begins with three calls to “give thanks to the Lord” (v. 1), “to the God of gods” (v. 2), and “to the Lord of lords.” The rest of the song fill-in the reasons to give thanks to God for his goodness. They are:

  • his creative power (vv. 4-9)
  • his redeeming love for Israel (vv. 10-22)
  • his continuing protection and provision (vv. 23-25).

That first section, verses 4-9, praise God for his creative power. He “made the heavens” (v. 5a), “spread out the earth upon the waters” (v. 6a), made the sun (v. 8a), moon and stars (v. 9a). Clearly, the psalmist believed that God was directly responsible for the design and existence of the material reality around us.

So, if we deny the literal creation account given in Genesis 1-2, what does that do to a passage like this? If theistic evolution–the idea that God started the process but that evolution did the rest–were true, what would that do to a song like this one?

The answer is that it would rob this song of any real ability to praise the Lord. Those who sang this song would be ringing a hollow tone, praising God for something that he had very little to do with. And this is just one example of the damage that is done to scripture and our faith if we abandon the doctrine of creation. The Bible began with the account of creation because so much of what is revealed about God in his word is tied to creation. Creation shows us God’s power, his wisdom, and his love. It calls us to bow before him in reverent worship and to know that we belong to God and are subject to him because he made us. What you make, you own and what you own you control. We belong to God because he made us. Therefore, he is worthy of our love, praise, obedience, and devotion.

Do you believe in the biblical account of creation? Do you understand how important that belief is to knowing God and following him as his people?

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.

Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112

Today’s readings are Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26 and Psalm 112.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God. But notice that God’s described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Psalm 112 re-affirms many of the positive promises God made here in Leviticus 26, and Leviticus 26:44-45 affirmed for Israel that God would not forget them or forsake his promises to them. Instead, verses 40-42 promised that “if they confess their sins… I will remember my covenant….”

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age. We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship. If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, Psalm 111

Today we’re reading Leviticus 25, Ecclesiastes 8, and Psalm 111.

This devotional is about Leviticus 25.

The people of Israel were dependent on God for everything while they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Here in Leviticus 25, verses 1-22, God gave some laws that would keep them dependent on him, if they obeyed them. These laws extended the notion of Sabbath rest to the land. God’s people were commanded to leave the land alone every 7th year (v. 4) and live by whatever it produced on its own without any sowing, cultivation or reaping (v. 6).

Think about that. The idea of having a Sabbatical year after every six years of work sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? “Take the next year off” your boss tells you. “We’ll send you a profit sharing check based on whatever money comes in, even though we’re not going to work or produce anything. It should be fine.”

When you put it that way, taking a year off sounds pretty terrifying. Land doesn’t ordinarily produce crops on its own, so just loafing around for a year and eating whatever shows up sounds incredibly risky.

That’s exactly the point. As the Lord said in verse 21, “I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” Taking a Sabbatical was an act of faith. It was taking God at his word that he would provide for his people. It wasn’t exactly a miraculous provision, like the manna from heaven was, but it was a divine provision. It would be an extraordinary event for God to make the land produce in this way, a reversal of the curse in Genesis 3:17-19, but that’s what God promised. He was promising a blessing to his people–the blessing of rest–if they simply trusted him.

God’s people didn’t trust him, so they did not obey this command. When God allowed Jerusalem to fall to the Babylonians, it was in part to fulfill this passage. 2 Chronicles 36:21 says, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” A great blessing was there for the taking but unbelief and fear kept it from happening.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What blessings you and I might be missing because unbelief and fear cause us to disobey God’s commands?