Joshua 23, Jeremiah 12

Read Joshua 23 and Jeremiah 12.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 12.

Yesterday, in Jeremiah 11:18-23, the prophet seemed grateful that God had revealed a plot against him. He asked for God’s justice to punish those who sought to kill him and God revealed to Jeremiah that He would punish them.

In the early verses of this chapter, however, Jeremiah started complaining about God’s justice. God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy punishment for those who were sinning in Israel. But there was no punishment; these people were thriving, as far as Jeremiah could tell (v. 2a-b). Jeremiah was eager to see God’s judgment fall and was annoyed with God for not delivering already on the promised punishment (v. 4a).

How did God answer this complaint? By telling Jeremiah that he was way out of his league: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” The rest of this chapter reaffirms God’s promise to bring judgment, first on Israel (vv. 6-13), then on the nations that defeat Israel (v. 14). The final verses allude to the salvation of Gentiles (vv. 15-16) but the chapter ends with another promise of judgment (v. 17).

So what exactly was God’s reply to Jeremiah’s complaint? It was to tell Jeremiah that His ways were too high for Jeremiah to understand. God will do what he promised. When will he do it? Why will he delay? The answers to these questions belong to the Lord. Jeremiah needed to stop complaining and just trust him.

We can relate to Jeremiah, right? If God is sovereign and holy and just, then why is there so much sin and evil in the world? These and other questions bother us and sometimes even challenge our faith God. If we knew what God knows and were as wise as he is, we would understand. Lacking his omniscience and wisdom, however, leaves us asking questions we can’t answer and even accusing the only just one in the universe of injustice.

This is how God always answers us when we challenge or question him. He doesn’t try to explain his ways; he reminds us that his ways are beyond our understanding. This is what he told Job and what he tells us. It is what he said to Paul when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The lesson for us is to commit to God the things we can’t understand and be faithful to do what he’s commanded.

Joshua 4, Isaiah 64

Read Joshua 4, Isaiah 64.

This devotional is about Isaiah 64.

Isaiah longed in this chapter for a personal visit from God (v. 1). However, he wanted something different from the vision of God he saw in Isaiah 6. Instead of seeing a vision of the Lord that was high and exalted as in chapter 6, he wanted God to descend to the earth personally to bring judgment on his enemies, the enemies of Israel (v. 2c-d) so that the would see that Israel’s God was the true God (v. 4).

Isaiah realized, however, that God helps “those who gladly do right” (v. 5) but that he and his people were not in that category (v. 5b). Instead, he acknowledged that, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (v. 6). As a result, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins” (v. 7).

So many people in the world talk about God, say that they are spiritual or into spirituality but Isaiah said, “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you.” As sinners, we want a god in our image not the Lord God who is holy and who punishes sin. To know God as he really is, you and I and anyone else must realize who we are before God: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (v. 8). This is an expression of repentance and an acknowledgment that no one can know God apart from his grace to save us from sin.

This is how a person becomes a Christian (to use modern terminology). When we have been turned to God in repentance by his grace, we long to see God for who he is, not for who we’d like him to be. We want to see him descend into this world and bring judgment on it (vv. 1-4) so that his kingdom will begin.

Remember this is what is at stake when you talk about Christ to others. The world needs to know that God is real and that he judges sin and sinners. Everyone in it needs to come face to face with the reality that we are wicked in God’s sight and even our best actions are useless in his sight: “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (v. 6b). No one can come to know God until they know and acknowledge this; but when someone does acknowledge it, he or she will find that God is no longer an angry judge but, instead, a loving Savior.

Deuteronomy 20, Isaiah 47

Today’s readings are Deuteronomy 20 and Isaiah 47.

This devotional is about Isaiah 47.

There have been many empires in human history. During their days of dominance, most people considered those empires impossible to defeat. In this chapter, Isaiah was inspired to speak against the Babylonian Empire, warning them that they were not as invincible as they believed. Verses 1-3 predicted Babylon’s humiliating defeat. Staring in verse 4, God explained that Babylon’s dominance was part of his plan to discipline Israel for her sins (v. 6). Babylon’s God-given domination seemed to them to be an eternal entitlement to rule (vv. 7-8) but God said that they will suddenly fall in defeat without knowing how it happened (vv. 9-11). The chapter ended with God mocking the religious practices of the Babylonians (vv. 12-15) and predicting that these prophets would not even be able to save themselves (v. 14c) much less the whole nation.

This chapter reminds us again that nations are under God’s sovereign authority and control, too. They may desire strength and domination but they cannot achieve either apart from God willing or allowing it to happen. In Babylon’s case, God had decreed that, for his own purposes, God would allow the Babylonians to defeat and exile his people in Judah. They served God’s purpose and, when that purpose had been served, God moved on to other nations to exercise his will, leaving the Babylonians weak and exposed and ultimately defeated by the Persian Empire.

Here in the USA, in the 21st Century, we too feel dominant and that our power will continue for as long as American’s can imagine. But what if God has other plans? What will happen to your faith if God moves on from America and allows another country to dominate us? Would you lose your faith in God if Canada, our mighty neighbors to the North, ascended in power and brought us nationally into subjection? What about if Russia or Brazil subjugated us to their rule. Would your faith be disturbed then?

God has blessed our nation and I’m thankful for the freedom and benefits we have. Nevertheless, this is not God’s kingdom and someday Christ’s kingdom will defeat and supplant every human nation and power on earth, including ours. That is, unless he allows some other powerful nation to take us down first. If that seems impossible to you read verses 7-11 again. The Babylonians thought they were incapable of defeat and they were… right up until God was finished with them. It is foolish for anyone to trust in human rulers or nations but this especially goes for believers. We belong to King Jesus; any other allegiance we have is far less powerful, important, or meaningful to us. If it isn’t, we are idol worshippers. Check your heart; is it with the Lord and his will or is it set on Americanism?

Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146

Read Deuteronomy 5, Isaiah 33, Psalm 146.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses repeated the 10 commandments for a new generation in this chapter, he also recounted the story of how God gave those commands. Specifically, he described how the Lord spoke these commandments audibly out of a fire on Mount Horeb directly to the people (vv. 4, 22). The people were afraid–who wouldn’t be?–and asked Moses to listen to the Lord’s voice and repeat what God to him to them (vv. 23-27).

God was pleased with this plan (v. 28) and then said, “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always” (v. 29a). This has been God’s desire from day one (er…, day six of creation, actually) for humanity. He wants us to fear him and keep his commands. God wants your reverence and obedience for his own glory; he deserves it as the only eternal and sovereign creator. No one else is worthy of receiving reverence and obedience beside the Lord.

But notice the last phrase of verse 29, “…so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” There was great benefit for Israel if they would only fear God and keep his commands; God promised his blessings on the lives of his people if they feared and obeyed him. This is the grace of God. He is not a tyrant demanding obeisance for selfish, egoistic reasons. Although he deserves reverence and obedience, he also promised good lives to those who would believe him and walk in his ways.

Israel received specific promises of God’s blessing for their obedience but the blessings that come from fearing and obeying God were not only for Israel. As Creator, God planned and promised blessings to anyone who would live by faith and follow him. A life of love, joy, and peace is available to anyone who inclines a heart toward God, fearing and following him.

The problem is that we cannot obtain this blessing because we all fall short. Our minds and hearts are polluted and deluded by sin. We daily encounter a strong inclination to selfishly disobey God and go our own way. Shortly after the events described in this chapter, these people would make a graven image of a calf and bow down to worship it. The fear of God that pleased him so much in verses 23-28 was soon forgotten, replaced by an idol in disobedience to God’s word. These laws, then, were designed to show God’s people the right way but also to expose the impossibility of walking in that right way apart from the grace of God.

Jesus came to obey these commands perfectly on our behalf, to suffer the penalties of our disobedience to these commands on our behalf, but then to give us a new nature and the Holy Spirit. Born anew by the power of God’s spirit, we now have the desire (“hearts… inclined to fear” God (v. 29a)) and the power to fear God and keep his commands. As Christians, we can read a text like verse 29c, “…keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!” and know that we can do this by the grace of God.

These verses can help remind us of God’s great promises and plans for us if we follow him by faith. If we can remember these verses when we are weak and tempted, they will help us to remember that God wants us to keep his commands for our good. Carry this verse with you, then, as you go into the world.

Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, Psalm 144

Read Deuteronomy 3, Isaiah 31, and Psalm 144.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 3.

God is gracious and forgiving; he has told us this over and over again. God judges sin with absolute justice but he is also merciful, particularly to the repentant.

There are limits, however, to God’s mercy as Moses learned here in Deuteronomy 3. Angry with the people for their grumbling and unbelief, Moses struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to speak to the rock in Numbers 20. God was gracious and provided the water they needed despite Moses’s disobedience; however, he told Moses that Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:12).

Here in Deuteronomy 3, Moses continued his sermon describing God’s works for Israel. In verse 23 he told the people that he “pleaded” with the Lord to reverse his judgment and allow Moses to enter the land. God told him in verse 26 to quit praying for that; instead, Moses would be given a look from a mountain nearby before he died but he would not enter the land himself (vv. 26-27). It did not matter that Moses was sorry for what he had done and was repentant. Although God is merciful, this was one instance in which he would not show grace to Moses.

This seems harsh, doesn’t is. Moses put up with a lot of nonsense and rebellion during his many years as Israel’s leader. Which of us wouldn’t have lost his temper at least once? Although Moses shifted the blame a bit (v. 26a), he was genuinely repentant; otherwise, God would not have let him continue leading for the previous 40 years. Why, then, wouldn’t God show Moses mercy in this instance? There are three reasons.

First, Moses’s sin was not just an expression of anger; it was an expression of unbelief and a violation of God’s holiness. Back in Numbers 20 where this incident happened, Moses said, “Must WE bring you water out of this rock?” (v. 10). When he said that, he put himself in a place of equality with God. God’s judgment on him, then, was for breaking the Creator-creature distinction. As he told Moses in Numbers 20:10, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Moses’s sin, then, was very serious because it violated God’s most elevated attribute, his holiness. It wasn’t just that he struck the rock when God said speak to it (though, that was disobedience); it was the unholy attitude that Moses displayed in his disobedience.

Second, Moses had greater accountability because he was Israel’s leader and teacher. I don’t want to spend too much time on this point but the Bible tells us that teachers of God’s truth bear more responsibility than everyone else. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

Third, God is Sovereign. Moses said this in verse 24 when he called him, “Sovereign Lord.” God had his own purpose for letting judgment fall on Moses and for sticking by that judgment despite Moses’s repentance and pleading. Although God is gracious and merciful, he does not have to be. Nobody has a right to God’s mercy; he has every right to extend and withhold it at will.

Have you ever been frustrated by unanswered prayer? Does it bother you when God shows favor to others that he doesn’t show to you? Let Moses’s example here inform your praying. God is merciful, loving, and gracious, but he is sovereign over those characteristics. He has the right to do what he wills to do, whether we like it or not. As his servants, discipleship calls us to accept his will–even when it is bitter–and follow him obediently.

Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143

Read Deuteronomy 2, Isaiah 30, Psalm 143.

This devotional is about Isaiah 30.

Judgment was coming to Judah because of idolatry and disobedience to God’s law. Isaiah and others had delivered prophecies to tell God’s people of their coming exile. How would they respond?

One way they responded was by contacting Egypt and attempting to form an alliance with the Egyptians (v. 2). Their solution to the growing storm clouds of trouble was completely human and tactical. They wanted to fight fire with more fire power. But, as verse 1 said, this was only evidence that they were “obstinate children.” God was not in their plans (“…forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,” v. 1d) so their plans were destined to fail.

If a political solution was not the answer than what was the answer? Verse 15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength….” The threat was human but both the problem and the solution were spiritual. Come to God in repentance; walk in his ways and the Babylonians will go bye-bye.

The end of this chapter holds forth the blessings God wanted his people to have. God “longs to be gracious to you” (v. 18). “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you” (v. 19b). “He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful” (v. 23). “The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (v. 26).

We don’t deal with invading armies and national alliances, but we do look for human answers to spiritual problems. Churches look for programs and gimmicks when attendance is weak instead of crying out for God’s Spirit to work and reaching out in genuine evangelism. Believers try psychology and self-help to manage their problems instead of humbling ourselves before the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and help.

Is there any area in your life where you are looking for human solutions to spiritual problems? Do you see how gracious God wants to be to you (vv. 18-26) if you come to him in repentance and faith (v. 19)?

Then what are you waiting for, exactly?

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 24, Isaiah 14, Psalm 129

Read Numbers 24, Isaiah 14, and Psalm 129.

This devotional is about Numbers 24.

Balak had a strange idea of what prophets do. He believed that any word a prophet spoke would become reality. His idea was that paying Balaam to curse Israel meant that Israel would be cursed automatically. Balaam told him repeatedly that he could only do what God empowered him to do (for example, verse 12), but Balak couldn’t understand. In verse 10 we read, “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.”

The theology behind Balak’s plan to curse Israel was that God exists to serve us like a cosmic vending machine. Put in the right coins, make your request, and out comes exactly what you want. He assumed that God would do whatever a “holy man” like Balaam asked.

It is comical to read this section and see Balak’s reaction to Balaam’s prophetic blessings. But we act this way ourselves sometimes. We believe that God must answer our prayers the way that we want. We may say, “if it is your will” in our prayers but if it isn’t God’s will, it bothers us. One thing these chapters about Balak and Balaam teach us is that God Almighty is not under our control; he’s not there for us to control. He controls us and we submit to him and what he wills to do.

I think it is also important to point out that Balak wanted God to do something that was outside of his moral will. God had expressed his intention to bless Israel for generations. Asking God to do the opposite of what he said he would do in his word is a way of praying that God is never going to bless with yes. People do that today, too, ignoring God’s written word and asking him to do something that is contrary to it.

Do you have any of this kind of “Balak theology” in you? Balak was an unbeliever but we believers can slip into this kind of thinking, too. Ask God to give you a submissive heart to his will and learn how to pray in ways that are in concert with what he has already revealed about his will in his word.

Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king….” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important–which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over Saul’s unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. I

n the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred.

Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23).

Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Numbers 22, Isaiah 11-12, Psalm 127

Read Numbers 22, Isaiah 11-12, Psalm 127.

This devotional is about Numbers 22.

Israel was tantalizingly close to the Promised Land. The forty years of wandering was almost over and verse 1 says, “the Israelites… camped along the Jordan across from Jericho.” You know already that Jericho was the first city they defeated when they entered the land. So the events of this chapter and the ones that follow happen just before they received the land God had promised them.

God had blessed his people, enabling them to defeat the Amorites (v. 2) and to become a large nation (v. 3: “so many people”). Out of fear, the Moabites looked for a way to defeat Israel, but given that God was with them, what kind of “defeat” could they engineer? A military defeat was out of the question.

So they decided to try to win a spiritual war and found Balaam (v. 5). They asked him to curse Israel (v. 6) and Balaam asked them to wait overnight while he sought revelation from God. In verse 8 he said, “I will report back to you with the answer the LORD gives me.” The word “LORD” is YHWH, the covenant name of God for Israel; but why was Balaam using this name for God?

One reason is possibly that he himself was a worshipper of YHWH. Another answer is that he knew many “gods” and that YHWH was Israel’s God so he waited for revelation from that God. It is hard to know from these chapters, but I think the answer is the latter. Balaam didn’t worship YHWH but he knew who YHWH was so he sought revelation from Israel’s God.

God did speak with Balaam and ordered him not to curse his people (v. 12). Balak sent a second delegation and asked Balaam to reconsider (v. 15). This time God gave permission for Balaam to go with them on the condition that he only speak the Lord’s word (v. 20).

What happened next was strange; God had allowed Balaam to go (v. 20) but in verse 22 we learn, “God was very angry when he went.” Although Moses did not explain further, God’s anger at Balaam may have been anger at his eagerness to find a way to get paid for his prophecies against God’s people. In verse 22b Balaam encountered “the angel of the Lord” which refers to Jesus before he became a man. After the very unusual interaction with his donkey (vv. 23-34) Christ spoke to Balaam himself, directly and charged him again to “speak only what I tell you” (v. 35).

There’s more to this story that we’ll come to tomorrow but here in this chapter we see God’s divine protection of his people. He would not allow his people to be cursed by an unscrupulous prophet.

Have you ever considered that maybe God’s enemies want to bring a curse into your life that only God knows about and that only he can prevent? That may happen more than we can imagine, but unless our Sovereign God allows the curse into your life, God’s enemies are powerless to touch you. Ask God, then, for protection from his enemies and thank God for the protection and peace he gives us.