Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, Psalm 141

Read Numbers 36, Isaiah 28, and Psalm 141.

This devotional is about Psalm 141.

In this song, David calls for God’s help again (v. 1), looking to Him to deliver him from his enemies (vv. 8-10). Although there were immediate threats that occupied his attention, they did not keep David from being concerned about his own moral development. In verses 3-5 he asked God to help him in a few specific ways:

  • First, he asked God to guard his mouth in verse 3. That was a request for God to help him learn to choose his words wisely and righteously.
  • In verse 4 he asked for help guarding his heart. This was a request for God to purify his mind and his desires so that he wanted to do what was right rather than longing for pleasures offered by sin.
  • Finally, in verse 5 David resolved to receive correction from other people well. He regarded a rebuke from another righteous man to be “a kindness,” a blessing like “oil on my head.”

When you pray, do you pray for yourself to grow spiritually? Do you think about the areas where you struggle with temptation and ask for God’s help in those areas? Growing in grace requires obedience to God’s commands but we need God’s power to desire and to do those commands. It is our job to say no to sin and quit practicing it but only God’s grace will make us want to quit sinning and desire to do what is right.

We have the power of God through the new nature he gave us and the Holy Spirit within us but we also have God’s help available to us through prayer to assist us in developing a godly life. This is what the author of Hebrews meant when he said, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

Even when we need God to work in our lives outside, it is important to remember to ask him to help us with our struggles within. Take time to pray now asking God to help you grow in obedience. Think about where your struggles are as a Christian and pray for God to help you.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139.

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 33, Isaiah 25, Psalm 138

Read Numbers 33, Isaiah 25, and Psalm 138.

This devotional is about Isaiah 25.

What will heaven be like? This is a question that most Christians have probably considered and plenty of non-Christians, too. When Hollywood believed in an afterlife, they created a picture of heaven that many people may still have: people become angels, float on clouds, and play the harp.

What an incredibly boring way to spend eternity!

God’s Word doesn’t reveal us a whole lot to us about what we call “heaven,” but there are a few things we can discern about it.

First, we don’t really spend eternity in heaven. The spirits of departed believers live in heaven with God now, but eternity will be spent on earth–first on this earth in what we call the Millennial kingdom, then on the new earth which God will create. So we really should be talking about “eternity” or “the eternal state” instead of talking about “heaven.”

Secondly, the eternal state happens in a city, the New Jerusalem, and this passage, Isaiah 25, gives us some detail about life there. Isaiah 25 is a song of praise to God (vv. 1-5), giving glory to God for what he has done for his people. Beginning with verse 6, however, Isaiah returned to describing the future, a topic he had begun discussing in chapter 24. How did he describe the future here in chapter 25?

First, he described a feast in verse 6. When God’s kingdom begins fully, it will start with a great celebration. Verse 6 described it as “a feast of rich food” which indicates an occasion of great pleasure and enjoyment for God’s people. And, the next phrase in verse 6 tells us that God’s people will be “all peoples” indicating that all kinds of people, not just Jewish people, will be welcomed guests at this feast.

Second, the eternal state is a place where death no longer exists and cannot trouble anyone. Verse 7 described death as a shroud, a sheet that covers everyone. But God “will destroy” that shroud and “will swallow up death forever” (v. 8a).

Third, eternity will be.a state in which there is no longer any unhappiness. Verse 8b says, “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” The sadness and disappointments of this life will not be present nor will they affect us when we are with the Lord. This seems particularly tied to the sadness that sin creates; verse 8b says, “he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” The things we do and have done that we are so ashamed of will be completely forgotten. Atoned for by the blood of Christ, they will no longer trouble us anymore.

Of course we bemoan the senseless tragedies, terrible injustices, and brevity of life that marks this world. The truths in this chapter, however, can encourage our hearts and give meaning and purpose to our lives. Our short time on this earth is not the end; it isn’t really even the beginning when we compare however many years we get in this life to an eternity with Jesus. So let your heart hope in God’s plans and let them focus your mind to help you serve him.

Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, Psalm 121

Read Numbers 15, Isaiah 5, and Psalm 121.

This devotional is about Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

In this chapter, Isaiah continued his prophecies against Judah. This chapter is more about why God will punish them for doing wrong than what will happen in the future. One of the many reasons for punishment in this chapter is that God’s people intentionally re-defined morality. They said that good was evil and evil is good. Instead of measuring what is moral by the character of God–the only true righteous standard there is–the people of Judah substituted their own opinions for the genuine will of God. The “woe” pronounced in verse 20 was a statement that God would judge them so they should feel a great sense of angst.

Calling good evil and evil good was not something that only Judah did. In fact, throughout human history people have been trying to substitute our own opinions for the word of God. The same is true today. All kinds of things that God’s word condemns as evil are called “good” by our society.

God pronounced a woe on these people because they had forsaken truth. That’s what the next two phrases in verse 20 say: “…who put darkness for light and light for darkness…” Since God is truth he is the only true standard for what is true or false, right or wrong.

Likewise, when you reject God and his revelation, you are left with only your preferences and thought patterns. Since each of us is a sinner, we have a strong tendency to try to rationalize our sins, leaving us with no light but only darkness. God provides us with the light of his truth. If we reject that, the best we can do is to try to redefine truth based on our own preferences. This thrusts us into the darkness of ignorance and unbelief. But, if we humble ourselves before the Lord and ask for his truth, he gives us the light of his wisdom to guide us daily.

Numbers 11, Isaiah 1, Psalm 119:121-144

Read Numbers 11, Isaiah 1, Psalm 119:121-144.

This devotional is about Isaiah 1.

This book of prophecy was written to the “kings of Judah,” the Southern Kingdom after Israel divided during the days of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. The Southern Kingdom was the “good” one of the two kingdoms in the sense that it had 8 kings that “did right” in the sight of God during their reigns. Three of them, Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah (v. 1) ruled during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. So, three out of the four kings who reigned over Judah during Isaiah’s life and ministry were righteous kings in God’s sight. Or, to look at it another way, out of the eight kings of Judah who did what was right before God, three of them ruled during Isaiah’s ministry.

Yet, despite three good kings, Israel was a mess spiritually. Isaiah had very strong language condemning the people for their rebellion (v. 2d), for forsaking the Lord (v. 4e). Within these words of condemnation are also strong words of promise. ““Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” As evil as the Judeans had become, God wanted nothing more than to forgive and restore them (v. 26). In fact, implicit in every judgement passage in the Bible is a call to repent. The terrible punishments that the Bible promises can be reversed because God is merciful. Nobody is too sinful to be outside the realm of God’s grace.

If you’re reading this but living in sin in someway, this is the promise for you. God will judge you for your sins and will punish you, but his mercy is there for the taking. Turn from your sin and ask God for his forgiveness.

If you’re walking with Christ today but fall into sin in the future, remember the lesson that God’s grace and mercy are there for you if you look to God in faith.

Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96

Read Numbers 9, Song of Songs 7, Psalm 119:73-96.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:73-96.

This Psalm is a long acrostic poem. Each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical order. It is also a love poem for God’s word. The Psalmist writes in every stanza words of praise and thanks to God for giving his law to Israel. He also claims throughout to love and live by God’s laws.

Like most Psalms, this songwriter had problems in life. Some of those problems, he felt, were afflictions from God (v. 75b). Others were persecutions (v. 84b) brought on by others. Or, perhaps, he had one major problem which he saw from two perspectives–(1) the persecutions of men (2) allowed by God’s sovereignty to afflict him for his own discipline and growth. Regardless, the Psalmist never claimed that his love for God’s word or his obedience to it gave him a trouble-free life. Instead, he found through his delight in God’s laws encouragement (v. 81b), comfort (v. 76) a basis for companionship with other godly people (v. 74, 79), guidance on how to live (v. 89, 93), and understanding about what is righteous and unrighteous in God’s sight (v. 85). Having benefited in all these ways from God’s word, he pleaded with God to rescue him according to the promises he’d read in God’s word (vv. 76b, 94) and to keep his heart faithful to obey God’s word (v. 80).

Scripture and prayer are God’s primary ways to minister grace to us while we live in this world and wait to be with Christ. We stray into sin when we stop looking for God’s help through prayer or stop looking to his word for our growth, guidance, and hope. It is possible–I know because I’ve done it–to be in God’s word each day and still have one’s heart grow cold to God’s word. This is why we should follow the Psalmist’s example and pray for God’s help to have insight to apply God’s word (v. 73), to think about God’s word (v. 95b), and to be tender to our own sinfulness so that we can be corrected by God’s word (v. 80).

I would encourage you to pray before reading these devotionals, before we worship together on Sunday, and anytime you are going to hear God’s word. Ask God to convict you, to give you insight into yourself, to give you understanding about what to do with his word once you understand it, and to give you courage to believe and obey it. This will help you keep from growing cold to the Lord and his truth.

Numbers 7, Song of Songs 5, Psalm 119:25-48

Read Numbers 7, Song of Songs 5, Psalm 119:25-48.

This devotional is about Psalm 119:45: “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”

Unbelievers sometimes complain that the Christian life is restrictive. You aren’t supposed to party and get drunk every weekend, you have to wait until you’re married to have sex, you are commanded to give to God’s work with your money, you’re supposed to worship on Sunday instead of going to the beach, and so on.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 119:45 thought that God’s commands were just the opposite of restrictive. He wrote, “I will walk about in freedom.” What kind of freedom did he have in mind? Verse 46 supplied one answer: “I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame.” That describes the ability to speak truth knowing that you won’t be refuted because God’s word is truth. Other freedoms that following God’s word gives you are freedom from a nagging guilty conscience, freedom from the pain and consequences of sin, and freedom from the fear of death. I’m sure there are others but this is, to me, an attractive list of benefits that we receive for obedience to God’s word.

April is almost over so, if you’ve been reading these scriptures daily, you’ve had four months of regular, direct exposure to God’s word. I hope you’re thinking differently in some ways and finding some of the freedoms that are promised in scripture for those who believe and obey God’s word. But, keep it up! One day of healthy eating doesn’t make you a healthy person. One week of daily exercise doesn’t make you fit. Growing in Christ through God’s word is similar. It takes daily practice to unlock the growth benefits but they will come if you are consistent.

Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112

Read Leviticus 26, Ecclesiastes 9, Psalm 112.

This devotional is about Leviticus 26 and Psalm 112.

Great blessings continued to be promised here in Leviticus 26. If only Israel had believed God (vv. 1-3), they would have:

  • abundant rain in season yielding fruitful harvests (v. 4).
  • a consistent supply of food (vv. 5, 10).
  • peace and security from wild animals and invading armies (v. 6)
  • military victory if war did break out (vv. 7-8)
  • a growing population base (v. 9)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY: fellowship with God who would live among them (vv. 11-13).

Following those positive promises were promises that there would be consequences if they disobeyed God’s word (vv. 14-39). This is what Israel actually got, for the most part, because they disobeyed God. But notice that God described these consequences in verse 23 as “my correction” and he said that the purpose of these punishments was to “break down your stubborn pride.” This is what God does for those he loves. He blesses us when we follow him in obedience and he brings correction, painful though it may be, to humble us and teach us to follow him.

Psalm 112 re-affirms many of the positive promises God made here in Leviticus 26, and Leviticus 26:44-45 affirmed for Israel that God would not forget them or forsake his promises to them. Instead, verses 40-42 promised that “if they confess their sins… I will remember my covenant….”

Here in the church age, God’s blessings to us are not necessarily the material prosperity he promised to Israel. We will enjoy that when his kingdom comes to earth, but that is not always his will for his elect in this age. We can, however, enjoy God’s fellowship (vv. 11-13) in this life while we wait for the kingdom to fulfill all the other promises he made. We also enjoy the conviction that God will not forsake us when we sin against him but that his correction is designed to humble us and to turn our hearts in confession and repentance to him.

How is this working out in your walk with God these days? Are you enjoying the comfort of his fellowship even if you may be experiencing some trials? Or are you stubbornly living in disobedience and, maybe, experiencing his correction in your life? If you are walking with God and not harboring any sin, then keep going. Don’t allow the lies that sin tells us to rob you of the blessings of God’s fellowship. If you need to repent, though, claim God’s promised forgiveness and have your walk with him restored.

Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, Psalm 109

Read Leviticus 23, Ecclesiastes 6, and Psalm 109.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 6.

This lifetime on earth offers us some incredible experiences. If life goes well, a person will be born into a loving family, have everything he or she needs to live, get an education, find a mate who will open a new dimension of love, have children who will open yet another dimension of love, possibly find a fulfilling career or, at the very least, one that will provide for a stable family life.

In addition to these blessings, many people will find friends to share experiences with, will enjoy watching many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, will hear music that enthralls them, will know what it feels like to win a tough game against a really good opponent, will taste food that they will never forget, and travel to places which will always be special in their memories.

That’s if all goes well….

However, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? Some people are born blind and will never see that beautiful sunset. Some are born to broken homes or have parents who will abuse them. Some grow up in excruciating poverty. Some will never learn to read. Some will never know what it feels like to be in love. Some will die in a tragic accident or through some kind of physical illness and will never live to see their kids grow up. Some people will experience a heartbreaking combination of these events; they will wonder why life has been so cruel to them.

Then there are others who experience success in life but can never enjoy the rewards of that success. That seems to be who Solomon has in mind here in Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. They succeed at life (“they lack nothing their hearts desire”) but die young before they can enjoy their success or they miss out in some other way. In the words of verse 2c: “….God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead.” In verses 3-6 Solomon says that someone who never made it out of the womb alive is better than the person who attained what they want in life but never could enjoy the results. This is just one of Solomon’s many laments in this book—a still frame in an unhappy video about the problems of life. These problems are caused by the curse that comes from sin. Whether a person suffers from poverty, or lives life alone and unloved, or has a broken body, or dies young, or is wealthy but unhealthy, nobody gets everything out of life that life could potentially offer to us all. The problem is not that God creates a cruel world that promises us pleasure but sticks us with pain instead. The problem is that the beautiful world that God created has been broken by sin. Because humanity defied God’s instruction, we all find heartache and sorrow and pain and lack of fulfillment in this life to some degree or other. Some of us feel it so intensely that the only word that can describe life is “unfair.”

This reality is immune to pious platitudes, quick fixes, or positive thinking. Even when someone’s life goes spectacularly well, there are always regrets, disappointments, grief, and sorrow. Ecclesiastes is a long meditation on the frustrating enigmas of life. Instead of telling us that “it’ll be OK eventually,” he will later tell us just to fear God, obey his word, and enjoy what we can. It’s good advice and we’d all do well to obey it. But we can’t even do that; the capacity to just “fear God and obey his word” was lost by humanity on the same day we lost paradise.

This is why Christ gives us such hope. Although he has not chosen, yet, to fix this broken and painful reality, he has shown us his love and promised us a better life—eternal life, if we trust him and follow him no matter what. If you’re discouraged today by circumstances around you, remember that your frustration is the symptom of a world that is suffering under sin and its consequences. Instead of bemoaning what is lost, look to Christ in faith. In him is the promise of life in his kingdom that will be perfection itself and will never end.

Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

Read Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

This devotional is about Psalm 107.

This song begins by inviting us to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and his eternal love and devotion to his people (v. 1). Verse 2 sets the theme for the rest of the song which is, “Who should give thanks to the Lord?” The answer is “the redeemed of the Lord” (v. 2). Verse 2 encourages anyone who has been saved by God to “tell their story” (v. 2a). Then the author gets into specifics:

In verses 4-9, the homeless who cried out to the Lord and received his provision should “ give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (v. 8).

Verses 10-16 describes those who lost everything due to the consequences of their own sin (v. 11). When they cried out to the Lord for help “and he saved them from their distress” (v. 13), then they should give thanks to him for his love.

Verses 17-22 talk about those who became ill to the point of death “through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (v. 17). Like the others, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave” (vv. 19-20). As a result, they should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 21).

Verses 23-32 is about those who do risky work. These sailors saw God’s immense power revealed in nature (vv. 24-26) and were nearly obliterated by it but when they called out to God, he rescued them (vv. 28-30). They, too, should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Verses 33-42 talk more generally about the acts of God for people. He provided prosperity for people (vv. 33-38) and brought recession and need into their lives (vv. 39-40) but ultimately he blessed those who needed him (v. 41). Verse 43 concludes by urging the wise to think about the loving works of God.

Everyone who knows God has seen him work in some way. It might be large and dramatic or it might be simple. It is easy to internalize these blessings or even to forget about them. This song urges us to go public and give praise to the Lord when he answers our prayers and rescues us from problems. So, what has God done in your life? Where has he met you when you were in a tough spot, had a deep need, feared for your life, or were trapped by the consequences of your own sin or foolish behavior?

Leviticus 11-12, Proverbs 26, Psalm 98

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?

Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Read Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

The previous chapters in this book explained the various offerings God had commanded his people to bring (Lev 1-7), the dedication of Aaron and his sons as priests (Lev 8), and the beginning of their service to the Lord on behalf of Israel (Lev 9). Their ministry had just begun and, here in chapter 10, two of Aaron’s sons broke the Law of Moses and displeased God with “unauthorized fire” (v. 10).

What exactly they did wrong is not explained to us. It could have been incorporating some pagan worship element in the offering. It could have been that they were drunk when making the offering (which maybe why verses 8ff are in this chapter). It could have been that they entered the Most Holy Place even though it was not the Day of Atonement. We just don’t know specifically what they did but whatever it was, it was done in willful disobedience to God’s word. This is why God acted as swiftly as he did. Instead of fearing the Lord and doing their ministry in that spirit, they attempted to worship God in an unholy way.

Moses responded swiftly and told Aaron and all the other priests exactly what to do next. This was to re-enforce that Nadab and Abihu were completely in the wrong and to keep the other priests from compounding the sin by disobeying God’s commands in other ways while they served as priests.

Still, despite Moses’s best efforts to keep the priests on an obedient path, they broke God’s law in verses 16-18 by not eating “the sin offering in the sanctuary area” (vv. 17-18). Moses was angry about this, too (v. 16) and confronted the priests about this violation. Aaron spoke up for the others and asked, given the fact that “such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” That satisfied Moses (v. 20) and no punishments resulted.

But what exactly did Aaron mean by, “such things as this have happened to me…”?

To answer that question, we must remember that Aaron was ordered not to grieve the death of his sons while he was on duty as a priest (vv. 6-7). These orders were directed at the outward signs of mourning; they were forbidden from tearing their clothes or allowing their hair to become disheveled which was a common way of showing mourning.

Although Moses commanded them not to mourn externally, they were of course sad and distraught on the inside, both due to the sin of Nadab and Abihu and due their deaths. So Aaron’s response to Moses in verse 19 seems to have meant something like, “We fulfilled our duties to the Lord as priests despite the sorrow we have. The only part we didn’t complete was the part that benefited us, eating the meat from the offering. Because we are mourning, none of us felt like eating. Since the meal is supposed to be for our benefit anyway, is God really displeased that we didn’t eat it? Would God have been glorified if we feasted away while our hearts were breaking?” If that’s what Aaron meant, it is a compelling argument and, therefore, not surprising that Moses was satisfied by it.

The most important part of what Aaron said, however, is totally clear: “Would the Lord have been pleased…?” His motives for allowing the sin offering to be consumed like the burnt offering instead of eaten were to glorify God. In every other circumstance, he would have obeyed God’s directions completely but, given these circumstances, it would be more glorifying to God for them to fast rather than eat the meal as if nothing were wrong.

The truth of this passage, then, is that the motives behind what you do for the Lord matter more than what you do for the Lord. This is something the Old Testament prophets emphasized and Jesus spoke about often as well. It is never right to disobey God because of your feelings; but there are times when it is not totally clear what the best way to glorify God is. In those times, one should seek to honor God and act in a way that is consistent with trying to honor God.

From time to time people in our church ask me about various ethical dilemmas they have. Things like:

  • Should I attend a baby shower for a baby conceived out of wedlock, especially if the mother is unrepentant? It isn’t the baby’s fault, but does it send a wrong message?
  • Should I attend the wedding of someone who professes Christ but is marrying an unbeliever? What if I’m not really convinced that the professing believer truly knows Christ?

These and other situations call for wisdom and they bring stress (and distress) to many conscientious believers. Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I try to reason aloud with the person asking the question from clear Scriptural truths and see if any seem to apply in the situation they are asking about.

Often, though, it ends in a judgment call. A passage like this gives us some comfort. If we are seeking to please the Lord–not to justify or excuse a sin that we really want to do but earnestly seeking to please him–then that matters more to God than scrupulous obedience to his commands from a cold heart.

Are you facing any tough decisions where the right thing to do is not 100% clear despite the fact that you’ve sought counsel from the Lord and from godly people? Take comfort that God knows your motives and that he is gracious and merciful to us, especially when we want to please him.