Deuteronomy 28, Isaiah 55

Read Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 55.

This devotional is about Isaiah 55:6-8.

This chapter in Isaiah issues an invitation to people who are thirsting for more than life has yielded to them (v. 1a-b). They want something better even though they have nothing to give (v. 1c-d). When they do get some money, they spend it on things that promise but do not deliver nourishment or satisfaction (v. 2). To those people, God said, “Come to me” (v. 3a). Instead of seeking all the unsatisfying things of this world, God said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (v. 6).

But seeking the Lord looks different from God’s perspective than it does form ours. That’s because “‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (v. 8). So what does it look like to God when someone is truly seeking him? Verse 7 provides the answer which is, repentance: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.”

We understand the wicked forsaking their ways. The ways of wicked people are wicked. They are dishonest, violent, selfish, and designed to satisfy their own lusts. Every command of God involving human action–from the command not to worship idols to the one not to kill–is a prohibition against wickedness. Those who break these commands are wicked; when people do one or more of these habitually, they show themselves to have wicked ways. These are the actions that do not satisfy (vv. 1-2); God invites the wicked to change his mind and seek the Lord instead of these wicked ways.

But notice that verse 7b goes further than calling people to forsake wicked ways. It says in that verse, “and [let] the unrighteous [forsake] their thoughts.” This command addresses a couple of human problems that keep us from God.

The first is hypocrisy. Sometimes people act righteously but think wickedly. They do what is right but want what is wrong. Their reasons for doing right may be many: social expectations, respect or religious status, or even a desire to earn favor with God. Regardless of how they act, though, their thoughts are unrighteous when judged by God. This is what Jesus called hypocrisy. It is obedience to God’s word on the outside while craving evil on the inside. God tells this kind of sinner that he will be unsatisfied and calls on him to repent about his thoughts and to seek God from the heart.

The second human problem that is addressed by the command to to forsake one’s unrighteous thoughts is the motivation that causes people to act wickedly. In other words, there are some who act righteous but are masking unrighteous thoughts but there are also those who act wickedly because they have unrighteous thoughts. Actions that are sinful start with thoughts that are wicked. Those who act wickedly have shown us what is in their hearts; their hearts, therefore, need to be changed before they can forsake their wicked ways.

Who you are on the inside and what you desire in your heart will eventually be exposed. You can’t desire sin but act righteously forever. Like a full bottle of water placed in the freezer, the water within freezes and expands and eventually the ice comes out. People, similarly, cannot contain their wicked thoughts forever; eventually what you desire will be expressed in actions. They might be actions that you do secretly in order to try to maintain the appearance of righteousness but they will become actions in the real world.

The point of all of this is that God wants us to turn our thoughts and our actions away from wickedness and seek him instead. We seek him in repentance and faith. Only the supernatural work of the Spirit of God can accomplish this work and he does that through the power of God’s word (v. 11). If you want the satisfaction that God promised, then, you need to beg for his transforming power through repentance then allow the Spirit to change you by the power of his Word. That means learning God’s word but also being obedient to it in your life.

What is the state of your heart before God? Are you seeking him from the heart, turning from your wicked thoughts and actions? God promised true satisfaction for those who seek him from the heart. Let’s believe that promise and turn to him.

Deuteronomy 26, Isaiah 53

Read Deuteronomy 26 and Isaiah 53.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 26.

But, about Deuteronomy 26, yesterday I wrote about Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 and how it teaches us that God’s word has ongoing relevance to every believer in any age, even if if doesn’t directly apply to you. In other words, you don’t have to own oxen to be obedient to Deuteronomy 25:4.

As I mentioned yesterday, Paul saw the command in Deuteronomy 25:4 not to muzzle the ox as a specific instance of a universal truth: people who work should benefit from their labor. Specifically, he argued in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 1 Corinthians 9:9 that people who benefit from the ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, etc. should provide financial support to those church leaders. Today, in Deuteronomy 26, Moses commanded the people entering the promised land to bring 10% (a tithe, v. 12) of what the land produced and dedicate it to the Lord. This initial tithe was a thank-offering; they were to rehearse Israel’s history from Abraham to the present day when they brought it (vv. 5-10). It was an offering to God because it was called “the sacred portion” in verses 13 and 14.

But, although it was an offering to God, it was given for the benefit and blessing of specific people. Namely, it was giving to “the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow” (v. 13). The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow were people who unable to provide for themselves so they needed to be provided for by others. This tithe was God’s way of doing that.

The Levites, on the other hand, did not have an allotted portion of land like every other tribe. Instead, they were scattered among the towns and villages of all the tribes in order to teach the Law of God to the people. They were allowed to own and farm land, but their primary responsibility was to teach God’s people his word and to minister at the tabernacle (later, the temple) during assigned times. God’s command was that the tithe would provide financial support to these ministers of his word so that they could serve the spiritual lives and needs of his people.

There are no commands to tithe in the New Testament and some believers are convinced that tithing is not for the New Testament age. In principle, I agree. We are not under the law so Moses’s command to tithe does not have the same force as it did for the people of Israel.

However, as we saw yesterday, all of God’s word is written for us even though it was not written to us. God’s work still needs to be financially supported somehow and the New Testament (like the aforementioned 1 Timothy 5:18 & 1 Corinthians 9:9 but also Galatians 6 and other passages) commands believers to give financially for God’s work. The 10% rule is not commanded but God’s people are encouraged to give generously, to store up treasure in heaven.

Think about this: do you think that Paul, who was raised in Judaism and taught to give 10% would think that a few hundred bucks, or 1% or 5% or anything less than 10% would qualify as giving “generously?”

So, God’s word does not require anyone in this age to tithe but it does command God’s people to give to provide for the poor and for the work of God’s ministry. Here at Calvary, our membership covenant requires tithing so, if you’re a member, you agreed to tithe to our church even if you don’t think tithing is for Christians today.

But beyond all of this, notice what Moses said would happen when God’s people brought a tithe to the Levites and the poor:

  • Verse 11: “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
  • Verse 12: “you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

These passages show the human benefit, the personal blessing that giving to God’s work and to the poor will bring. You will rejoice (v. 11) and so will the recipients (v. 11) because they will “eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Do you tithe to our church? If not, do you think the Lord is pleased by your decision?

Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, Psalm 115

Read Numbers 2, Ecclesiastes 12, and Psalm 115.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 12.

Here in Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon begans to sum up his experience and bring the book to a close. Chapter 12 opened with a command to remember God, the creator, while you are young (v. 1a). Verses 2-8 explain why it is important to focus your life on God while you are young, but what he says in these verses has been understood in a couple of different ways:

  • One approach to 12:1a-8 is called the “allegory of old age.” This interpretation sees every image as describing a body that is breaking down as it gets older. For instance, when verse 2 says, “the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark,” that s a description of an older person’s failing vision. And “the grinders cease because they are few” (v. 3c) is a poetic way of talking about the fact that a person’s teeth are falling out.
  • A second approach is to see this as describing the decline of life and the onset of death through the metaphor of a storm. In this interpretation, “the sun and the light” etc. growing dark is describing the approach of the storm. Likewise “the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades” because people see the storm coming and are seeking shelter before it arrives.

Both of these interpretations have some weaknesses, but both of them seem to be describing the approach of death. The end of verse 5 demonstrates this when it says, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.” The point of the passage is that you should not wait to seek God when you are near death.

All the godless approaches to life that Solomon tried were frustratingly enigmatic, so none of them will give you the satisfaction you think they will. If you think you should live for pleasure while you’re young then turn to God when you get older, you’ll find that the pleasure you seek is unsatisfying anyway and death will descend on you so quickly that it is too late to prepare for.

This truth is one that we should reflect on and urge on those who are younger. There is a tendency to think that people will get serious about God as they get older, more mature, and wiser but the truth is that as you get older you tend to get more set in your ways. Instead of turning to God because you’ve found every other approach to life unsatisfying, older people who have lived apart from God just tend to become cynical and jaded, not worshipful and godly.

Solomon’s advice, then, is found in verse 13: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” There are many frustrating, enigmatic problems that come with living in this life. We all wish we could solve the riddle of why things that should make us happy leave us feeling, at best, disappointed and, at worst, miserable. But it is foolish to waste our lives trying to disprove Solomon’s teaching. Instead, to make the best of the life God has given you, follow his ways in faith and let him be the judge of all things. Whether you are young or old, there is no sense in waiting until you get older to serve God. The fun you think you have pursuing your own life will not be satisfying and death will close in on you faster than you can possibly imagine. So, follow God’s ways and trust him to provide the joys and satisfactions that the righteous enjoy. This is the secret of life.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Today we’re reading Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, and Psalm 108.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 5.

Here in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been reporting on his experiments in lavish living. He has taken the wealth God gave him and the wisdom God gave him and invested these things in searching what the best way to live might be. Everything he tried, however, turned out to be a frustrating enigma. It satisfied for a brief time, then offered ever-diminishing returns, then emptiness.

Many people who have achieved wealth and/or success in this life have proved this to be true. Some of the most miserable people you may ever meet are the people who got everything they wanted in life. That is, if everything they wanted was something in this life, for this life. Solomon’s oft-repeated phrase, “under the sun” (for example, v. 13) indicates the human-only realm. It is a phrase that indicates “apart from God.” Apart from God, wisdom is a frustrating enigma (1:12-18, 2:12-16) pleasure is a frustrating enigma (2:1-11), work is a frustrating enigma (2:17-3:22), life itself is a frustrating enigma (4:1-3), success is a frustrating enigma (4:4-8), career success is a frustrating enigma (4:13-,16), and wealth is a frustrating enigma (5:8-17).

So did Solomon find anything worth pursuing? Yes, but… two things must be said:

  • First, he found human relationships to be something worthwhile (vv. 9-12) but more as an advantage (“a good return” – v. 9, “one can help the other up” – v. 10, etc. Still, this was one positive thing he observed.
  • Second, he “saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work” (3:22). But this truth is tied to another which is, “…to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil… is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness” (vv. 24b-26). Did you catch that? The simple things in life are satisfying only if you are a person who pleases God.

This chapter, Ecclesiastes 5, developed that thought even more. Life can be rich and fulfilling if you walk with God. So Solomon advised his readers to fear God in their worship (vv. 1-7) and be satisfied with whatever God gives them (vv. 18-20, esp. v. 19: “to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”). Why would one person find pleasure and wealth to be a frustrating enigma while the guy in verses 18-20 can “eat… drink and find satisfaction”? Because the person in verses 18-20 walks with God. He may have “wealth and possessions” (v. 19b) but he sees them for what they are–a gift from God (v. 19a). Because his walk with God is most important, “God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart” (v. 20).

The book of Job taught us that suffering and trials are part of life, so don’t think that walking with God means that everything will always go smoothly and that your life will be a straight line upward. But when you survey a person’s entire life, Solomon’s conclusion was that a person who walks with God will find the simple things in life satisfying because he finds his joy in God.

How about it? Do you find life to be frustratingly enigmatic? If so, it might be that your walk with God includes a season of suffering for now but it might also be that you’re looking to life “under the sun” for satisfaction instead of looking for life “in the Son” by walking with him daily. If Solomon of all people couldn’t find satisfaction under the sun with all the resources he had at his disposal, we would do well to take his advice and focus on our walk with God. He is the source of true satisfaction.

Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104

Today we’re reading Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104.

This devotional is about Psalm 104.

It is really satisfying to do something and be happy about how it turns out. It might be a picture that you took that looks really good. You had it framed and put it up in your home and, periodically when you walk by, it just makes you smile. Or maybe it is a picture that you painted, or flooring that you installed yourself, or a piece of furniture that you repaired or restored. When we do something that turns out well, it brings us a very satisfying sense of pleasure.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 104 believed that God must feel that sense of satisfaction when he looks at creation. As verse 31b says, “may the Lord rejoice in his works.” The Psalmist certainly rejoiced in God’s works. From verse 1 through verse 30, the songwriter detailed what God has created and praised him for it. Then, in verse 33, he announced his intention to “sing to the Lord all my life” and in verse 34 stated his desire: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” Of all of God’s work, this satisfies God the most. When men and women whom he created worship him and desire to please him even in our thoughts, then God is truly glorified. All of this happens by God’s grace to us in Christ and, when it does happen, it brings immense pleasure to our Lord.

When we take time to think about God in his fullness and awesomeness, those thoughts elevate us spiritually. They cause us to stand in awe of God’s greatness and create in us a desire to know and serve the God who redeemed us. Take some time today to think about the size, complexity, beauty, and intricate detail of the world around us that God created. Then praise him and ask for his help to have a heart and mind that aspire to be pleasing to him.

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?