Judges 6, Jeremiah 19

Read Judges 6 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

God complained, through the prophets, about many sins committed by Israel and Judah. But, of all those sins, idolatry was mentioned most frequently. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God: Human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to pornography, premarital sex, unrighteous divorce, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and other sexual sins. We worship money and wealth which leads to exploiting workers, dishonest advertising, and unfair contracts. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god–even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation–and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

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 18, Isaiah 45

Read Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world–and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear….” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel–ourselves and through missionaries around the world–God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

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 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.”

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 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116

Today’s readings are Numbers 3, Song of Songs 1, Psalm 116.

This devotional is about Psalm 116.

The unknown author of this song proclaimed his love for the Lord (v. 1a), then detailed why he loved the Lord. His reasons for loving the Lord were personal; God saved him from death (v. 3a, 8a). But, although his reasons for loving the Lord were personal, they were not detached from God’s revelation. In verse 5, the Psalmist tied the answer to prayer he received–his salvation from death–to what he had been taught about God from his word. Verse 5’s statement, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” is a paraphrase of God’s revelation of himself in Exodus 34:6: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness….” The songwriter, then, learned from experience what he had been taught in principle. He realized that God’s answer to prayer in his life was one of many examples throughout human history of God being who he is and doing what he does.

What was God’s purpose in saving this man from death? Verse 9 says, “that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” In other words, God’s purpose was to show the power of God in his changed life. From the time that God saved him from death until his actual death (v. 15), the Psalmist believed that he should “walk before the Lord” — a phrase that describes living an obedient life to God.

But this “walking before the Lord” was not payback for his salvation. In other words, the Psalmist did not see living a godly life as something he must do to earn the favor God had shown him. We know that because he asked the question in verse 12, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” The answer was worship; verse 13 describes him offering a drink offering of thanksgiving to God: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (see also verse 17).

So “walking before the Lord” was not an attempt to deserve his salvation. It was a description of how God’s salvation had changed him. His wording in verse 9 makes this clear: “that I MAY walk….” This describes God’s power in his life; it restates what he had said in the phrase just before in verse 8, “For you Lord have delivered… my feet from stumbling.” God not only saved him from death; because he trusted the Lord, God also changed him within, giving him the desire and the power to walk with God and live for God.

God may not have saved you or me from physical death in some near death situation, but in Christ he has saved us from the wages of sin which is death. That is, he’s saved us from an eternity accursed and apart from him. And, just as God has done throughout human history, when we look to God by faith for salvation, he both delivers us from death and empowers us to live! This is something to thank God for (v. 17). If you’re like me, you may not thank God for your salvation very often, but we should. Without God’s gracious and compassionate nature demonstrated for us in Christ, we would be estranged from God daily “stumbling” (v. 8). In Christ, however, we have received the benefit of God’s salvation–both the deliverance from death and the capacity to live for our Lord.

Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98

Today the schedule calls for us to read Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98.

This devotional is about Psalm 98.

The end of the world, at least as we know it, is usually thought of as something to be feared. The unbelieving world around us frets about the extinction of humanity through climate change, or an asteroid hitting the earth, or the sun exploding or dying. We Christians read the book of Revelation and stand in fearful awe of the tumult that will precede the coming of Christ’s kingdom.

Unbelievers have much to fear about the end of world, but not for the reasons that they think. The end of this world means accountability before God. The Bible tells us that each person who has ever lived will stand and give an account of his life before a holy God. Apart from the righteousness of Christ credited to us by God’s grace, none of us will have a satisfactory answer for how we’ve lived our lives. And, as he promised, God will punish everyone who died in their sins.

It is sobering–and very sad–to think about the billions of people who will be tormented for eternity for their sins. It is surprising, then, to read the Psalmist’s encouragement to sing “for joy” (vv. 4, 6, 8) because God “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b). And, how will that judgment be delivered? “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” according to verse 9c-d. In other words, when God’s judgment comes, he will give everyone exactly what they deserve.

So, given that everyone will get what they deserve and that, apart from Christ, each of us deserves God’s eternal wrath, why does the Psalmist encourage us to sing for joy? Two reasons.

First, those who die in their sins have no excuse. Verses 2-3 tell us that “the nations” and “all the ends of the earth” have seen “his salvation” (vv. 2a, 3d). No one who dies apart from Christ, then, can plead ignorance. God has revealed himself and humanity turned a blind eye to him.

Second, the world cries out for judgment and righteousness. Everyone who has ever been sinned against understands the pain that injustice causes. When Jesus “comes to judge the earth” (v. 9b), he will be doing what is right. This world, which is distorted by sin, will finally be restored to what God created. If you’re in Christ by faith, that is a very good thing, something that should give you joy. When Jesus comes to judge, God will no longer be disregarded or questioned or mocked. He will restore the world to the state he created, a state where sin is punished and joy reigns because of righteousness. All the heartaches and problems that sin has caused in this world will be banished and, for the first time ever, a righteous society will exist. These are reasons for joy.

This Psalm, then, calls each of us who believe in Jesus to rejoice in our hearts and sing with joy from our lips because of God’s salvation (vv. 1-3) and because of his judgment (vv. 7-9). Do you rejoice in these truths?

Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, Psalm 82

Today we’re reading Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, and Psalm 82.

This devotional is about Exodus 34.

In Exodus 33 we read, yesterday, that Moses wanted to see the glory of God (33:18). God promised that Moses would hear an announcement of God’s goodness (33:19) and see a glimpse His glory (vv. 20-23).

Here in Exodus 34, we read Moses’s description of how God kept that promise. Whatever Moses saw, he did not describe it for us in this passage. He did, however, describe what he heard. When God wanted to show Moses his glory, God proclaimed his name: “The LORD, the LORD” (YHWH, v. 6b) followed by a description of God’s character: “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (vv. 6c-7).

When God wanted to reveal his glory, he described himself in words, in theological propositions. He did show Moses something at various times (see Ex 24:10, 33:11, 23) but whatever Moses saw was a physical representation of God (probably, the person of Christ) not the essence of God. That’s because God is spirit (Jn 4:24, 1 Tim 6:15b-16) so a visible, physical presence is not part of his essence. The only aspect of God that we can understand is his Word–his description of himself in human languages.

If you want to know God, learn theology. That’s how God has revealed himself. The better you learn your theology, the better you will know God. But truly knowing God goes beyond memorizing statements about his character. Truly knowing God requires experiencing his character; that is, we see his compassion, his grace, his slowness to anger, his abounding love and faithfulness, and his forgiveness. We see these truths he has revealed about himself–first in his Word as we read about his work in the lives of others, then in our own lives as we walk with him. Again, if you want to know God, learn theology; then notice how theology impacts and changes everyday life.

What Moses learned about God in this passage is paradoxical. On one hand, God is “compassionate” “gracious” “slow to anger” “abounding in love” and “forgiving [of] wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (vv. 6b-7). Verse 7b, however, says that God “…does not leave the guilty unpunished….” How can God forgive wickedness without leaving the guilty unpunished? The answer is Jesus. We know God’s love and forgiveness in him because he received the punishment that we guilty sinners deserved. This is the glory and greatness of our God. When we consider these things, they should cause us to act like Moses who “…bowed to the ground at once and worshiped” (v. 8).

Exodus 10, Job 28, Psalm 58

Today’s readings are Exodus 10, Job 28, and Psalm 58.

This devotional is about Job 28.

In this beautiful chapter, Job meditated on the scarce resource of wisdom.

In the first 11 verses, he talked about how people extract precious minerals from the earth. It is a complete pain to get silver, gold, iron, and precious gems out of the earth. Despite how difficult and dangerous it is, men will do it because these things have immense value. The value of owning and selling these natural resources far outweigh the expense and trouble it takes to extract them from the earth.

But what about wisdom? It is more valuable than anything, so “where can wisdom be found?” (v. 12a). You can’t mine it from the earth (vv. 13-19) and it is invisible to anyone but God (vv. 20-27). Fortunately, God has revealed it to humanity. Verse 28 says, “And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”

We live in a society that is increasingly secular and becoming hostile to our faith. Those who denounce Christianity will try to tell you how the increase in human knowledge makes faith unnecessary and, in fact, shows how useless faith truly is. It is true that we enjoy many human inventions and innovations and most of those were not discovered or created by Christians. Yet, we also see in our society that, despite how educated and confident we are about our learning and scientific discoveries, people are becoming more and more foolish. They believe that gender is not biological, that sexual promiscuity of all kinds is acceptable and harmless to a person and society. They believe that free speech is oppressive and that human governments have the answers to all human problems–if we only gave them more power and money.

Meanwhile, people in our society are prosperous but unhappy. They have access to healthy food and excellent health care but live in despair. They form families, then tear them apart through divorce. Then they wonder why their kids are closed off emotionally and turn to destructive behaviors like drunkenness and substance abuse.

These are the consequences of not fearing the Lord. God will let you make sinful choices and live your own way. You may become very well educated, too, but you will lose all access to wisdom if you don’t fear the Lord. The poor choices people make morally and the pain they experience are symptoms of the folly of rejecting God and his word.

You and I know better to some extent if we know the Lord. But we can still be deceived by the ways of this world. This passage calls us to stop and reflect. Are we living in the fear of God and growing in wisdom? Or does the wisdom of this world seem to make better sense to us because we’ve departed from the Lord’s ways?

Wisdom is the most valuable resource humanity can have. And, it isn’t rare or hard to find like gold, silver, and iron. The Bible says wisdom calls out in the streets and beckons to the foolish. The rarity of wisdom isn’t that it is hard to mine; it is rare because it can only be found in God. To find wisdom, we must humble ourselves in repentance and faith and trust that God’s ways are higher than ours. We must learn to obey his word even when the world seems to have a better explanation. When we fear God and keep his commands, then we find wisdom. There is no other way to get it.