Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, Psalm 17

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 18, Nehemiah 7, and Psalm 17.

This devotional is about Psalm 17.

We don’t know the circumstances that led David to sing this song of prayer to God. Was it because Saul was pursuing him? We don’t know. What we do know is that David was distressed (vv. 1-2) and that whatever he was concerned about was not caused by his own sins (vv. 3-5).

Tucked away in this song is the phrase, “save me… from those of this world whose reward is in this life” (v. 14b). Why is do people lie? Why do they make promises they don’t intend to keep? Why do they take advantage of others? Why do people commit so many sins against other people?

The answer, often, is fear.

People fear getting passed over for a promotion they want, so they spread gossip about other worthy candidates. People use deception to get you to buy something or overpay for it because they fear the financial problems they’ve created for themselves. In short, people act they way that they do because they don’t fear accountability to God and they believe, on some level, that all that matters is what happens in this life. There is a certain, twisted logic to the idea that if your reward is in this life, then you’d better get all you can, even if you have to do unrighteous things to get it and keep it.

By contrast, David lived as he did because he believed a greater reward was waiting for him after this life. And what was that reward? It wasn’t streets of gold, or a mansion over the hilltop, or a crown of self-righteousness.

God was the reward he wanted: “As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v. 15).

Since you love the Lord and belong to him, keep this in mind when you are afraid. When you’re afraid of the consequences of doing the right thing, remember that a greater award awaits: seeing God. Then, call on God to protect you and save you in this life (vv. 6-9) until the time comes when you will be with him.