Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, Acts 18

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 45, and Acts 18.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

Long before Cyrus became the king of Persia, Isaiah wrote about him by name (vv. 1, 3d, 4c). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God called Cyrus “his anointed,” meaning that he was a man chosen to do the Lord’s will. In this case, the Lord’s will was to return Israel to the promised land (v. 4a-b, 13c-d). Remarkably, God used Cyrus to do this “though you do not acknowledge me” (v. 4e, 5d). But, as a result of what Cyrus would do, “…people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” Cyrus was an unwitting and unbelieving servant of the Lord and God would be glorified through Cyrus’s actions.

In verses 9ff, the Lord anticipated an objection to this plan to use Cyrus. The unstated objection was, “How can God use a heathen king who does not serve the Lord to do his will? Why would God do that?” The answer was stated in verses 9-11 and could be summarized as, “None of your business.” Because God is the creator (v. 12), he has the right to do whatever he wants with his creation. If we dislike what God does, we have no right to judge him or question him. He is the potter, we are the clay (v. 9), he is the parent, we are the child (v. 10). We have no more right to question what God does, how he does it, or why he does it than a coffee cup has the right to question its maker or a child has to question his or her parents.

This is difficult for us to accept! Our perverse sin nature wants to put God on the same level as we are. We want a God we can understand, one we can control by telling him that his actions are unjust. We want God to be subject to a standard just as we are so that we can accuse him of failing to meet the objective standard.

But God cannot be measured by an objective standard; he IS the standard. Because he is God, he has the right to do whatever he wants because whatever he wants and whatever he does will be perfectly consistent with his holy nature and character.

So, whatever you’re struggling with, whatever has you questioning God, remember that God is great, good, just, and righteous. Then, trust in him to do what is right and best, even if it makes no sense to you.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10

Read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Matthew 10 today. This devotional is about Genesis 15.

Genesis 14, which we read yesterday, described how Abram and his men battled and defeated four kings who had beaten five other kings and had taken Lot captive. Scripture gives us no indication here of how that battle affected Abram emotionally but it is possible that, even though he won, Abram was traumatized by the experience.

If Abram was traumatized by that battle, it is not surprising to see God giving him comfort in the opening words here in chapter 15. In verse 1 God said, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield….” That phrase indicates that God was the one who had just protected Abram in battle and would protect him in the future, too.

But God went on to tell Abram that knowing God was worth more than all the wealth and power that Abram refused at the end of chapter 14: Verse 1e says, “I am… your very great reward.” 

Abram had received other promises like this from God so in verses 2-3 he questioned God about this promise. Specifically, he wanted to know how God could keep this promise given that he and Sarai had no children. 

Questioning God is a spiritually-risky thing to do. God is sovereign; he is creator. We have no right to question his will because we are his creation.

But questioning God is not always a sin. In fact, there are two types of questions. Sometimes we ask questions to understand what God has said. At other times, we ask questions to undermine God and suggest that his promises are not worth trusting.

Abram’s question was not an attack on God or his word, it was a sincere effort to understand what God said and how it would be accomplished when it seemed so unlikely.

God answered Abram’s sincere question with his word. Notice that verse 4 says, “Then the word of the Lord came to him.” God and Abram had already been talking so why was this phrase necessary?

The point was to remind us who is making the promise. God graciously gave Abram a clarification (v. 4) and a re-affirmation of the promise (v. 5). Though God’s answer may not have been totally satisfying, Abram accepted it in faith anyway (v. 6a).

Then verse 6b recorded one of the most important statements in the book of Genesis: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abram to be a righteous man. That declaration was not based on something Abram did to create or demonstrate his own righteousness. Rather, God considered Abram to be perfect based on his faith, not his obedience.

The lesson for us is that living by faith means trusting God’s word even when God doesn’t answer all our questions.

God commands and calls us not to be perfect on our own, but to believe; to fall in total dependence on God’s promises. 

Do this when obeying God seems risky or you are afraid or you doubt God’s goodness or wonder if God’s promise really applies to you. Fall in total dependence on his promises and watch God keep his word.

Judges 2, Jeremiah 15

Read Judges 2 and Jeremiah 15.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah is set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment has been passed and the sentence is settled. Pain is on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there will be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it is too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was bringing to him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling him to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult word, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you. But if you don’t stand alone, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but they do provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Exodus 6, Job 23, and Psalm 54

Today we’re reading Exodus 6, Job 23, and Psalm 54.

This devotional is about Job 23.

Sometimes it seems like God’s presence is real and tangible. You can’t see him or touch him, but his conviction is so powerful, or his work in your life is so undeniable, or the power of his word is so strong that you can sense his presence.

Most of the time, though, we don’t sense the presence of God, at least not that strongly. In the most discouraging moments of life, actually, it feels like God is a million miles away. That’s how Job was feeling in Job 23. He was willing to travel anywhere to have an audience with God (v. 3). His purpose in seeking that audience was to explain to God why his problems were unjust (v. 4) and then to hear God’s response (v. 5). He was confident that God would respond in his favor and reverse all the troubles he had experienced in the opening chapters of this book (vv. 6-7).

Alas, though, he couldn’t find God (vv. 8-9). There was no location on earth Job could travel to and have a direct, personal, tangible give-and-take with the Lord God.

Instead, Job realized that he had to wait for God to summon him. He couldn’t go and find God but he believed that God would find him (v. 10a). And, when God did find him, Job was confident that he would be vindicated (vv. 11-12).

But what if God didn’t vindicate Job? That was the question he considered in verses 13-17. God exists on another level from us, one that we can never approach.

  • God is creator; we are the created.
  • God is infinite; we are finite.
  • God is perfect; we are… not.
  • God has absolute power; we have very limited powers and whatever power we have was delegated from God anyway.
  • God is all-wise; we are foolish.
  • God knows all-things; compared to him, we know nothing.

We desire to know why–why bad things happen to good people, why innocent children suffer painful birth defects, why our hopes and dreams often don’t come true and why those that do come true don’t seem to be as sweet as we thought they would be.

These are common human questions and struggles and they are not necessarily sinful or disrespectful to God.

It is sinful, however, when we challenge God instead of fearing God. To challenge God, one must believe that he knows better than God does and has better moral judgment than God does.

Questions are inevitable. But can you consider them and ask them while still remembering to fear God? The fear of God is to remember that he exists on another level from us, a level we cannot even imagine much less understand. Ask your questions but remember who God is and who you are. Ask your questions in submission, fearing God for who he is. Someday, he may honor you with the answer.