Judges 18, Jeremiah 32

Read Judges 18, Jeremiah 32.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 32.

In the first section of Jeremiah 32, Jerusalem is in big trouble. Nebuchadnezzar had the city under siege (v. 2), which means he was going to starve the people into surrender. Jeremiah, likewise, was in trouble. Not only was he in Jerusalem, he was incarcerated in the palace (v. 2b-5). While in this predicament, Jeremiah’s uncle approached him wanting to do business. Specifically, he wanted Jeremiah to buy some land from him (v. 8). God had told Jeremiah this would happen (vv. 6-7), so Jeremiah bought the field and made it all official (vv. 9-12). Then Jeremiah had the deed preserved in a clay jar (vv. 14-15).

That was an object lesson and its purpose was to demonstrate that God was not finished with Jerusalem. Although he was warning the people that their city would fall to the Babylonians, after 70 years in captivity, God’s people would be returned to this land. Jeremiah’s family, then, would be able to use the field that Jeremiah purchased.

After this, Jeremiah prayed an eloquent, worshipful, God-honoring prayer (vv. 17-25). He praised the Lord as Creator (v. 17a), all-powerful (v. 17b), loving and just (v. 18a-b), exalted and powerful (v. 18c), wise and all-knowing (v. 19), revealing (v. 20), redeeming (v. 21), and covenant-keeping (v. 22). He also acknowledged the guilt of Israel (v. 23), a form of repentance.

That prayer is a great model for us in our prayers. In a very dire situation, Jeremiah worshipped God personally and specifically and confessed sin before asking for God’s help in verse 24-25.

What is your prayer life like? Is it like ordering in a fast-food drive in? You fly in, demand what you want from God, and expect it to be “hot and ready” when you expect?

Or do you take time to love God with our words, asking for his help but acknowledging that his will may be very different from what we want. This is reverent prayer. This is what it means to bow before the Lord, not just symbolically with your posture but in every way submitting yourself to our Almighty Master?

Are you willing to accept the kind of “no” to your prayers that Jeremiah received in this passage?

Can you hold on to God’s promises even if he waits for generations before keeping them?

Judges 17, Jeremiah 30-31

Today we’re reading Judges 17 and Jeremiah 30-31.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 31:36, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’”

There is a method of interpreting scripture that interprets the promises God made to Israel, the nation, as fulfilled in us, the church. The church, according to this interpretation, is a full replacement for Israel.

There are significant problems to that method of interpretation. A primary problem is the specificity of God’s promises to Israel. Note in verses 38-39 how specific the proper place names are: “… this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah.” How can these specific places be “spiritualized?” If you believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16), then why did God keep making these promises to the nation, including specific places in the Promised Land, if he meant them in some kind of spiritualized way?

The only answer that makes sense and takes these promises seriously is a literal interpretation of them. In the future, after Christ returns, God will re-establish the nation of Israel in the land on earth with Jesus as king. We Gentiles will take part in that kingdom because we’ve been grafted in (Rom 11:13-17) and because it was always God’s plan to include people from all nations, not because we have replaced Israel.

The fact that Jewish people still claim a unique identity is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to these promises. Someday he will make good on every promise. When that happens, his people will be redeemed spiritually (vv. 33-34) and everyone on earth will “know the Lord” (v. 34). Human life will finally be restored to the condition God created us in–holy, devoted to him, and perfect in our faith and obedience. All of this will happen, of course, only by the grace of God: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60

Read Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60.

This devotional is about Isaiah 60:21-22.

Why is it that only a few people will be saved compared to the billions of people who have or will ever live? One answer is given here in Isaiah 60:21-22. This chapter continued to hold forth for Israel the promise of God’s kingdom in the future under Messiah. Verse 21a promised in that kingdom that “all your people will be righteous,” indicating that only those redeemed and regenerated by the Lord will be there. Two phrases later in verse 21c Isaiah wrote, “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands….” Picture this image: God’s kingdom is not like a great oak tree transplanted from somewhere else into the land of Israel. Instead, it is a weak little “shoot,” the tiny sprout of a plant that God himself planted but which grew into something great any mighty and, for the first time in human history, holy like God is. So God’s plan was to make something mighty out of something weak and insignificant. Verse 22a-b tells us that his kingdom will become mighty when it says, “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.”

But, again, why? Why choose insignificance and only save a few? Verse 21e says, “for the display of my splendor….” It glorifies God to take the weak, the humble, the insignificant and weak and make something great out of it. This is what God will do for Israel when his kingdom is established (again verse 22); and everyone who sees it happen will be amazed at the awesome power of God.

Although this chapter describes what God will do for and with Israel, it echoes a constant theme in Scripture: that God chooses the weak and lowly and insignificant and chooses that to bring glory to himself. This is one reason why only a few are saved. If most people were saved, it would be a common, unextraordiany thing. When God chooses and uses insignificant things and turns it into something great, everyone knows that God is great.

It is troubling at times to be in the kind of minority we find ourselves in as believers in this world. If only more people were believers, we wouldn’t feel so awkward and out of step with the rest of our society. Someday only the righteous will inhabit the world and we’ll fit in just fine then because we too have been justified and sanctified by the grace of God. Until then, we wait for him to glorify himself though us when his kingdom comes.

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 4, Isaiah 32, Psalm 145

Read Deuteronomy 4, Isaiah 32, and Psalm 145.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 4.

In this chapter Moses transitioned from surveying Israel’s recent history to expounding on God’s law. Verses 1-14 form the transitional paragraph. In verse 10, Moses called on the adults who were children at the time to “remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb.” He reminded those who were there how terrifying it was to see the glory of God revealed on that mountain (vv. 11-13) and how God graciously stopped speaking directly to the people and, instead, mediated his word through Moses (v. 14).

In verse 15 Moses used the fact that God did not have a physical form to remind Israel of the fact that the Ten Commandments forbade them from making “for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape…” (v. 16). The rest of that paragraph (vv. 15-31) spelled out what would happen if Israel turned to idolatry. Israel’s history showed the complete fulfillment of what Moses described here.

Then, in verses 32-34, Moses called God’s people to contemplate world history. What God did for Israel, redeeming them as an intact nation from Egypt, was unprecedented. God did this, according to verse 35, to demonstrate the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God…. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:2-3). Everything God did for Israel was proof that he was the only true God; therefore, according to verse 39, Israel should “acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” With these words, Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments, which he will repeat in tomorrow’s reading in Deuteronomy 5.

Moses’s point is that God’s commands are not a burden to Israel; they are gifts from the only being in the universe who knows absolute truth. If Israel would only reverence the Lord for who he is and what he has done, then God’s people will see his commands as a blessing that leads to greater blessings.

You and I are not Jews. We live under a different covenant. God’s power was not demonstrated to us on a fire-filled mountain; it was demonstrated to us in the resurrection of Jesus. God’s commands to us have many similarities and many differences to Moses’s law and his commands to us come with the power of the Holy Spirit. Still, like Israel, we are called to believe God and follow him in faith and obedience to receive his blessings.

Does the Christian life seem like a burden to you or a gift? Are God’s commands a crushing load that you don’t want to carry or are they a path of liberation from bondage to sin and its consequences?

As believers in Jesus, we are called to obey everything Christ commanded us (Matt 28:20). Since we believe in Jesus, we must also believe that obedience to his word will bring good, not harm, into our lives. So is there anywhere in your life where you are resisting the commands of God? Will you, by faith, submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and follow him in obedience by faith?

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 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72

Read:Numbers 8, Song of Songs 6, Psalm 119:49-72.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:72: “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

Would you rather be wealthy or smart?

On one hand…

  • You might be tempted to choose “smart” if you think that superior intellect can be used in multiple ways, including to earn you wealth.
  • You might be tempted to choose “wealthy” if you think that money can buy you brains.

On the other hand…

  • If you’re wealthy but lack intelligence, someone smarter than you might swindle you out of all your money.
  • There is no guarantee that being smart will make you wealthy. I read somewhere once that really smart people are risk-averse because they can think of ways in which things might go wrong. Earning wealth often requires risk so people with very high I.Q.s tend to take jobs instead of starting businesses because a job feels safer.

So, money or smarts? A good case can be made for either. Here in Psalm 119:72, the Psalmist knew the answer to a similar question. That question was, “Would you rather be wealthy or have God’s word?” His answer was, “God’s Word.” He put more value on God’s revelation than on a vast amount of wealth. Why?

One reason was that he had been “afflicted” (v. 67, 71a). This describes the discipline of the Lord in his life which corrected his disobedience and put him back on a righteous path. In that incident of discipline, the author of this song learned how valuable truth and obedience are. Wealth can make problems go away but only God’s word and God’s loving discipline can change your life. This is one reason why God’s word is more valuable than wealth.

Another reason is that money is temporary. Even if you inherit a large fortune and use skill to make it grow, you will die someday. After you die, your money will be useless to you and your eternity will be set. God’s word has saving power to create faith in your heart so that you can be redeemed from God’s wrath by his grace. That’s an eternal value that makes scripture more valuable than any human wealth.

What’s most valuable in your life? What would need to be true for you to value scripture above anything else?

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!

Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

This devotional is about Psalm 107.

This song begins by inviting us to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and his eternal love and devotion to his people (v. 1). Verse 2 sets the theme for the rest of the song which is, “Who should give thanks to the Lord?” The answer is “the redeemed of the Lord” (v. 2). Verse 2 encourages anyone who has been saved by God to “tell their story” (v. 2a). Then the author gets into specifics:

In verses 4-9, the homeless who cried out to the Lord and received his provision should “ give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (v. 8).

Verses 10-16 describes those who lost everything due to the consequences of their own sin (v. 11). When they cried out to the Lord for help “and he saved them from their distress” (v. 13), then they should give thanks to him for his love.

Verses 17-22 talk about those who became ill to the point of death “through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (v. 17). Like the others, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave” (vv. 19-20). As a result, they should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 21).

Verses 23-32 is about those who do risky work. These sailors saw God’s immense power revealed in nature (vv. 24-26) and were nearly obliterated by it but when they called out to God, he rescued them (vv. 28-30). They, too, should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Verses 33-42 talk more generally about the acts of God for people. He provided prosperity for people (vv. 33-38) and brought recession and need into their lives (vv. 39-40) but ultimately he blessed those who needed him (v. 41). Verse 43 concludes by urging the wise to think about the loving works of God.

Everyone who knows God has seen him work in some way. It might be large and dramatic or it might be simple. It is easy to internalize these blessings or even to forget about them. This song urges us to go public and give praise to the Lord when he answers our prayers and rescues us from problems. So, what has God done in your life? Where has he met you when you were in a tough spot, had a deep need, feared for your life, or were trapped by the consequences of your own sin or foolish behavior?

Ephesians 1:1-10

Ephesians 1:1-10

Despite the appearance that the world is out of control, God has a plan for everything and he is faithfully working to make his plan a reality. Find out more about it in this message from Ephesians 1:1-10.

This is a message from chapter 1 of the New Testament book of Ephesians by Pastor Brian Jones.

This message was delivered on Sunday, November 1, 2009 at Calvary Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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