Judges 11:12-40, Jeremiah 24

Today’s readings are Judges 11:12-40 and Jeremiah 24.

This devotional is about Judges 11:12-40.

Jephthah was born of a sinful union and was horribly mistreated by his half brothers as we read yesterday. Despite this difficult beginning, he had leadership qualities (11:3) so he was ready when his people needed help.

He also knew his Bible (vv. 12-28) and, when the time came, God used him powerfully to deliver Gilead from the Ammonites. Although he had pure motives to honor God for the victory, the vow he made was stupid (vv. 30-31). His reaction (vv. 34-35) shows how little thought he put into the vow he had made and how there was no malice whatsoever in his heart when he made the vow.

I heard a pastor say once that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter and offer her as a burnt offering; instead, he just sent her off to the tabernacle to serve the priests like Hannah would later do with her son Samuel. I wish that were true, but the evidence to the contrary in the passage is too strong. In verse 31b he said, “I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” and verse 39b says, “…he did to her as he had vowed” so there is every reason to believe that she died as a human sacrifice and no reason to believe that she lived as a religious servant.

So what do we do with this awful text?

First, we should understand that the whole book of Judges was given to show us what a moral and spiritual mess Israel was. Even the good guys in Judges do foolish, even ungodly things.

More importantly, we should understand that Jephthah’s vow was outside of the moral will of God. Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-12 clearly prohibit human sacrifice and those passages tell us that Israel would kill the people of these Canaanite nations in war because of this very kind of sinful thing. Promising God that you will do something and then doing it when it is a sin does not bring glory to God in any way.

So what should Jephthah have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65)*, then done whatever he was told. I am certain the Lord would have commanded him to redeem his daughter in some way rather than put her to death.

We can learn two lessons from this gruesome story.

First, being zealous for God’s glory does not automatically protect you from doing foolish, even sinful things. Sometimes Christians make excuses for themselves or others because someone “has a good heart.” They may have a good heart but that doesn’t mean they always make good decisions. Wisdom is just as important as personal godliness; in fact, it IS an important aspect of godliness.

Second, when you put yourself in a moral quandary–intentional or not–you need to seek godly counsel for help. So many problems could have been prevented, solved, or at least had the damage contained if God’s people reached out to godly leaders for help sooner and more often. Consult your elders when you’re in over your head. God gave elders to the church to shepherd his people out of difficult situations. Use us.


*For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Numbers 19, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Psalm 124

Read Numbers 19, Isaiah 8:1-9:7, Psalm 124.

This devotional is about Numbers 19.

Some of God’s commands in the OT law are easy to understand. “Do make any graven images, do not kill, and do not covet” are a few examples.

Some others make sense if you understand their purpose. The sin offering, for example, taught people that (1) every sin was worthy of death (as Romans 6:23a says) (2) they could be forgiven if a substitute died for them. When Jesus died on the cross, he came as the true, final sin offering so we now understand the symbolism of the animal sacrifice known as the sin offering.

Other commands of God are harder to grasp and Numbers 19 is one of those. Verses 1-6 describe the recipe for making the “water of cleansing” from the ashes of a red heifer. Verses 7-22 describe the regulations and uses of this water of cleansing. But what good did it do anyone to be sprinkled with this water?

The “water of cleansing” did nothing. It didn’t make anyone physically clean, it didn’t remove sins, nor did it have magic spiritual powers that removed demons or something else bad from someone’s life. It was truly and only a ritual, a ceremony with no tangible benefit. So why did God command it?

Verse 9 said this water was “for purification from sin” but the only instances where God commanded it to be used were when someone touched a dead body (vv. 11-13, 16-21). So “purification from sin” must mean from the purification from the consequence of sin, namely, death. Death was not God’s original plan for humanity; it was his curse on us for our sins. Since God is life and death is a curse, God gave them this ritual to set them apart from the consequences of sin. If someone were to touch a dead body without this ritual, they would “defile the Lord’s tabernacle” (v. 13b, see also verse 20c).

The point of the red heifer purification water, then, was to teach Israel about the holiness of God. God was not to be approached and worshipped by someone who had been in contact with death. Instead, they were considered defiled and unacceptable to approach the Lord until they went through this ritual. The ritual was a teaching tool to show God’s people, and us, that God is completely separate from sin and death and one must not approach him to worship without being set apart.

In Jesus we have been set apart. There is no need for this kind of ceremony any longer because God has credited to us the perfections of Christ. When we come to God in worship–prayer, singing, whatever–we know that we will be accepted because Christ’s death has been applied to us and we are declared clean, worthy, set apart, washed, sanctified, holy, and perfect in him.

Have you ever considered how a passage like this one shows how utterly holy God is? As you think about this offering, do you get a greater appreciation for all that God has given to us in Christ? He not only cleansed our sins; he has removed every unacceptable trace of sin, death and defilement from us, not because of anything we did but because Jesus did it all for us. That is something to praise the Lord about!

Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63

Today’s readings are Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63.

This devotional is about Psalm 63.

The human body can live for a few weeks without food, for a few days without water, and for a few minutes without oxygen. If your body is deprived of any of these things for long enough, it will be difficult for you to think about anything else. If you can’t breathe and will die in a few minutes, you won’t care how you’re going to pay the mortgage next month or whether the Lions will draft a quarterback in the first round.

The superscription to this Psalm claims that David wrote it “in the Desert of Judah.” In verse 11, he refers to himself as “the king” so the setting of this passage may be when David fled from Absalom his son. Although he was not in immediate danger of starvation or dehydration, David was in a state of deprivation. He was cut off from the water springs of Jerusalem and from “the richest of foods” he would have enjoyed in his palace. What David craved in the desert, however, was not water or food; it was God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

He was deprived of God in the sense that he couldn’t see God “in the sanctuary”—the Tabernacle—anymore. He couldn’t offer sacrifices, sing with the people, or hear the Torah read and explained out in the Judean desert. Living in exile, excluded from the comforts and necessities of life, David longed for God more than anything else. He believed that, “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods” when he rejoiced in God.

None of us knows what it is like to run for your life into the desert. But some people–maybe some reading this, even–know what it is like to have all our financial reserves stripped away and to be evicted from your home. Others know what it is like to lose your family in tragedy or divorce. In our moments of deprivation–and desperation–do we long for fellowship with God or simply for him to deliver us from discomfort? The Bible encourages us to enjoy everything we have–family, material goods, good weather, whatever–as gifts of God. But this Psalm calls us to believe that nothing can satisfy us like knowing and worshipping God can (vv. 1, 5, 11). Does your walk with God give you that kind of joy and satisfaction?