2 Samuel 6, Ezekiel 14

Read 2 Samuel 6 and Ezekiel 14.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 14.

Risk is a problem for many people, maybe most of us. While we think we may be right about something, we also know that we’ve been wrong in the past. The question, “What happens if I’m wrong?” haunts us when we feel that something is risky.

Because of this, people do things to try to eliminate risk or, at least, decrease the cost of being wrong. Buying insurance for on life, for your home, or your car, or anything else is one way to mitigate risk. You buy that insurance but hope that you never actually need it. Insurance is one form of risk mitigation that we all use. People who invest a lot of money have ways of mitigating risk; so do some people who gamble.

Ezekiel prophesied God’s judgment on Israel for their idolatry, and, here in Ezekiel 14:1, it looks like the elders of Israel were trying to mitigate their risk. Verse 1 told us that they came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. It doesn’t tell us what, if anything, they said but in verses 2-3 God asked Ezekiel, “Should I let them inquire of me at all?” God’s question, then, indicates that the elders came to seek God’s revelation about something, probably the disaster that Ezekiel was predicting.

God was not flattered or impressed by their attempts to reach him through Ezekiel. The reason was, “these men have set up idols in their hearts” (v. 3). In other words, they were not coming to God in repentance, genuinely seeking truth from the true God. They were hedging their bets, trying to mitigate their risk. They worshipped false gods genuinely, from the heart; their interest in the true God was self-interest only. They came to Ezekiel only to try to get a good answer the question, “What if Ezekiel is right and God really does judge us?” They were like large corporations in our day who make campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans so that whichever party becomes powerful will not treat them like the enemy.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied would become a spiritual heart transplant for God’s people. “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols” (v. 5). This is what God wants from people; a genuine worship, love, and devotion to him. Anything we do to try to appease him or “cover our bets” spiritually is offensive to him.

In Christ we have new life and a heart that genuinely desires to know and love God. Anyone who has an idol of the heart, be it materialism, pride, desire for admiration, or whatever, needs the spiritual heart transplant of regeneration that God spoke of in verse 5. That comes as a gift of God’s grace and has happened when someone follows God’s command to “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (v. 6).

Still, even as genuine followers of Christ, we are tempted by idols. A passage like this one calls us to reflect on our lives and consider which idols we may be flirting with in our hearts then repent and ask the Lord to purify us so that we “will no longer stray” from him (v. 11).

2 Samuel 2, Ezekiel 11

Read 2 Samuel 2 and Ezekiel 11.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 11.

In many of our readings this year, we’ve seen how God gave Israel his law. In it, he specified how obedience to the law would bring blessings and how disobedience would bring his curses on them. Time after time in Judges, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and now here in Ezekiel, we saw God keep his word—he blessed his people in the rare times of obedience and he punished them when they disobeyed. Over and over again they disobeyed and he would allow them to be oppressed but not completely overrun. At the time Ezekiel wrote these words, however, God’s most painful punishment was falling on his people.

When I read about Israel’s failures and God’s punishments in the Old Testament, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people never learned from their own history and lived obediently to God’s law. God’s law had some unusual commands to observe—don’t wear a garment made of synthetic materials, for instance. But for the most part, what God was really angry about was their idolatry. Why couldn’t Israel just serve the Lord? Why did they repeatedly turn to idols, even when bad times were the result?

Today’s passage in Ezekiel 11 answers that question. Specifically, verses 19-20: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” The reason that Israel could not obey God’s laws is that they did not have a new nature within. What people needed—what we still need—is the spiritual work of God called regeneration.

People like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, and all the prophets had been born spiritually. They didn’t love God and obey his laws in their own moral strength; they received the gift of eternal life. This is alluded to in passages like Genesis 15:6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The difference between the few who obeyed God’s word and the many who worshipped idols and lived lawless lives was faith. The “faithful” believed God because God had given them the new spirit discussed here in Ezekiel 11:19-20. The “faithless” may have followed some of the symbols and ceremonies, the civil laws and some of the moral codes, but fundamentally they did not believe God’s word.

The same is true when Jesus lived. By that time the oppression of the Assyrians and the exile of the Babylonians had ended. Israel was under Roman rule, but Jesus never rebuked anyone for worshipping Baal. God’s judgment of his people by the Assyrians and Babylonians was effective in stripping out overt idolatry from the people. But the Pharisees and many other Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not obey God’s laws from the heart; they were doing it to appear righteous to others and to obtain favor from God by their own good deeds. These are not acts of faith; they are acts of unbelief. Although they are not overtly idolatrous, they are not produced by love for God.

This is why Nicodemus came to see Jesus; although he studied and understood the law and was as scrupulous as any other Pharisee about obeying it, he didn’t really “get it.” He knew that Jesus had spiritual reality and spiritual power that he did not have. So what did Jesus say to him? “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (Jn 3:3).

People needed spiritual rebirth—regeneration—in the Old Testament and people need it today. This is a central idea of our faith. We are not calling people to moral reformation; we are calling them to repentance and faith in Christ. What sets you apart from your unsaved neighbors and family is not that you are a good person and they are not; what sets you apart is the gift of eternal life in Christ. This is the hope we have to offer people around us; not “be moral so God will bless you,” but “receive Jesus so that you can have the power to live a moral life.”

Joshua 8, Jeremiah 2

Read Joshua 8 and Jeremiah 2.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 2:13.

This second chapter of Jeremiah began God’s complaint against his people. The immediate audience was the population of Jerusalem (v. 2a) and God recalled in glowing terms the exodus of all the tribes of Israel from Egypt (v. 2b-3). Starting with verse 4, God turned to the spiritual problems of his people; as usual, the main problem was idolatry.

Here in verse 13, God charged them with rejecting him and choosing their own way. He used an image related to water to visually describe his complaint. Forsaking him meant rejecting “the spring of living water” (v. 13c). This refers to the gift of spiritual life that comes from trusting God by faith. Jesus also used this image in his conversation with the woman at the well (Jn 4:14), promising that those who believed in him would never thirst again.

The other watery image here in Jeremiah 2:13 is in line d which says that they “…have dug their own cisterns.” Cisterns are holes in the ground that collect rain water and water runoff. In the desert, where lakes and streams are rare and and springs of underground water are hard to find, these cisterns are quite useful. The rain water they retain can be used to irrigate crops and hydrate animals and, if necessary, provide drinking water for people. But rain water lacks the good taste and refreshing nature of spring water. You might drink it if you had to, but you would long for spring water and look hard for it.

God used this image to tell his people that he offered them an endless supply of life and refreshment but they chose the dirty water left over from rain and runoff. This water could not replenish itself; instead, once the cistern was dry (from use and evaporation), it would remain empty until the next rain–which may not come soon in a desert climate like Judah had. The spiritual image here is that God’s people traded the life God gives to those who believe his word for spiritual leftovers gathered by human ingenuity. This water offered some refreshment but it was also contaminated and limited in supply. Furthermore, the collection methods people used to get it were flawed; verse 13e calls them “…broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

Other religions teach some truths that God’s word also teaches. These religions may teach morals and ethics that our faith also teaches. They may offer the hope of life after death and may even hold to one God instead of many. Human philosophy and psychology also offer truths that correspond to some of the teachings of God’s word. But even when these alternatives to biblical faith are right, they are at best severely limited, unclean and even contaminated and ultimately unable to satisfy with eternal life. Yet this is what we imbibe when we look to political solutions to human problems or to psychology or to other religions, even those that claim association with Jesus.

Consider the sources of information you consume. How much of it is the collected runoff of philosophy or spirituality verses the genuine spiritual life God gives us by grace? Drink deeply from God’s word and let it refresh and satisfy your soul; don’t settle for the dishwater swill of this world.

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 30, Isaiah 57

Read Deuteronomy 30 and Isaiah 57.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 30:6.

It is easy to read the Old Testament and come to some false conclusions. Two false conclusions that come to mind are (1) that Israel had the capability to keep the law of God and that (2) God would be pleased with them if they kept his law.

False conclusion number 2 would be true but it is impossible because of conclusion number 1. Israel had no chance of enjoying all the benefits God promised in his covenant because Israel was a nation made up of sinners. Their obedience to his Word, therefore, would only ever be partial and half-hearted. Because God is perfect and demands perfection, the sins of the people–no matter how minor they seem to us–would always render them guilty before their holy God. We can see from Israel’s history that God did bless them when, in a general sense as a nation, they kept his commands not to worship idols or commit murder, or oppress the poor. But each individual person would be guilty of things like coveting his/her neighbor’s stuff.

So all of these laws in the Old Testament were designed to show God’s people and anyone else who was paying attention that God is holy and therefore, people are always guilty before him. God used the law to teach this so that people would come before him genuinely seeking his forgiveness and his help to be obedient to his word.

Verse 6 here in Deuteronomy 30 describes the spiritual work that needed to happen for people to truly worship and follow him. That verse says, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” Circumcision, of course, was the covenant mark of the Abrahamic covenant. Each boy who was circumcised was, by that act, showing that they belonged God’s people, the descendants of Abraham. When verse 6 says that “God will circumcise your hearts” Moses is describing the spiritual act of belonging to God, being marked as a genuine believer of God. This is what we would call in the New Testament “regeneration,” the work of the Holy Spirit that makes someone a child of God.

There are important differences between Israel and the church but it is important to understand that God’s people have always needed his grace through faith and the regenerating work of the Spirit in order to be his people from the heart, not just in name only. What I’m saying is that God’s people–Old or New Testament–have always needed God to save them, to act on our behalf and make us his by the work of the Spirit. Believers in every age have all been saved by the grace of God and never by religious rituals or meritorious good works.

Are you trusting in your religious rituals or are you trusting in the grace of God alone for your salvation?

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses repeated the 10 commandments for a new generation in this chapter, he also recounted the story of how God gave those commands. Specifically, he described how the Lord spoke these commandments audibly out of a fire on Mount Horeb directly to the people (vv. 4, 22). The people were afraid–who wouldn’t be?–and asked Moses to listen to the Lord’s voice and repeat what God to him to them (vv. 23-27).

God was pleased with this plan (v. 28) and then said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always” (v. 29a). This has been God’s desire from day one (er…, day six of creation, actually) for humanity. He wants us to fear him and keep his commands. God wants your reverence and obedience for his own glory; he deserves it as the only eternal and sovereign creator. No one else is worthy of receiving reverence and obedience beside the Lord.

But notice the last phrase of verse 29, “…so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” There was great benefit for Israel if they would only fear God and keep his commands; God promised his blessings on the lives of his people if they feared and obeyed him. This is the grace of God. He is not a tyrant demanding obeisance for selfish, egoistic reasons. Although he deserves reverence and obedience, he also promised good lives to those who would believe him and walk in his ways.

Israel received specific promises of God’s blessing for their obedience but the blessings that come from fearing and obeying God were not only for Israel. As Creator, God planned and promised blessings to anyone who would live by faith and follow him. A life of love, joy, and peace is available to anyone who inclines a heart toward God, fearing and following him.

The problem is that we cannot obtain this blessing because we all fall short. Our minds and hearts are polluted and deluded by sin. We daily encounter a strong inclination to selfishly disobey God and go our own way. Shortly after the events described in this chapter, these people would make a graven image of a calf and bow down to worship it. The fear of God that pleased him so much in verses 23-28 was soon forgotten, replaced by an idol in disobedience to God’s word. These laws, then, were designed to show God’s people the right way but also to expose the impossibility of walking in that right way apart from the grace of God.

Jesus came to obey these commands perfectly on our behalf, to suffer the penalties of our disobedience to these commands on our behalf, but then to give us a new nature and the Holy Spirit. Born anew by the power of God’s spirit, we now have the desire (“hearts… inclined to fear” God (v. 29a)) and the power to fear God and keep his commands. As Christians, we can read a text like verse 29c, “…keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” and know that we can do this by the grace of God.

These verses can help remind us of God’s great promises and plans for us if we follow him by faith. If we can remember these verses when we are weak and tempted, they will help us to remember that God wants us to keep his commands for our good. Carry this verse with you, then, as you go into the world.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

In yesterday’s reading, we noted the Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “…we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked.

Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant.

In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the supernatural working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s Spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.

Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120

Read Numbers 10, Song of Songs 8, Psalm 119:97-120.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:118, 120: “You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their delusions come to nothing…. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”

The songwriter described so many benefits from knowing, loving, and obeying God’s word throughout this Psalm. In verse 105 of today’s reading he made the well-known statement, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” which describes God’s truth as bringing clarity about decisions in his life.

But what about those who don’t know and love God’s word? What do they have to guide them through life? Verse 118 answers that question by saying, “their delusions come to nothing.” What unbelievers have, then, are delusions rather than truth. They make decisions based on their own deluded ideas rather than on absolute, God-revealed truth. They may have strong convictions but their convictions are based on nothing other than their own preferences or ways of looking at the world. This shows itself in our society daily. The crazy things people claim to be true, like that there are 57 genders or whatever, are symptoms of a deluded society.

Delusions can be really interesting, even very appealing. The human mind is capable of incredible, wild fantasies and, because they are only thoughts, they are not constrained by things like logic, physics, morality, or human laws. When people start to live as if their delusions are true, they will stumble into many absurd, wicked ways. As the Psalmist wrote in the last phrase of verse 118: “their delusions come to nothing.”

The preceding part of verse 118 tells us what will happen to those who live by their own delusions instead of God’s truth: “You reject all who stray from your decrees.” People may enjoy acting as if their distorted reality is true but after they die, they will find a holy God who has rejected them for rejecting his word.

This brings me to verse 120. Obeying God’s word is hard, right? Without the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and illumination, it is impossible. Even with those gifts of the Spirit, we believers have to grapple with our sin nature within. So what enables a person to reverence, receive, and obey God’s word? Verse 120 says, “My flesh trembles in fear of you….” It is the fear of God that causes people to obey his word. This is the work of the Spirit causing us to turn from our delusions about God, about life, about sin and believe that God exists and that we are accountable to him but also that he loves us and wants to redeem us from our delusions.

Any appetite we have for God’s word or any success we have in obeying it is only by the grace of God given to us by his Spirit. This is why we have nothing to be proud about. But we must always remember to rely on the Spirit, asking God to keep us humble and dependent on his grace. Otherwise, we will be tempted again by the “delusions [which] come to nothing.”