2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3

Read 2 Chronicles 4-6:1 and Nahum 3.

This devotional is about Nahum 3.

As we’ve read already in Nahum 1-2, God’s judgment on Ninevah was mostly due to their extreme violence. Remember that God’s law–imprinted in our consciences and written in his word–is the standard by which we are judged. It is impossible to keep the law of God because of our sin natures but that does not exempt us from accountability to the Lord and judgment by the Lord for breaking his laws. What our inability to keep his laws requires is his grace. Christ secured that grace by taking our penalty on the cross and he forgives us by grace when we trust in Christ’s cross-work for us.

So the kings and people of Nineveh were responsible before God and guilty before him for all the nations they attacked without cause and the soldiers and civilians who were killed by their military aggression. Verse 1 here in Nahum 3 describes this city as “the city of blood.” Verses 2-3a vividly depict their powerful armies and verse 3b detailed the results of their attacks: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses…” Verses 5-19 warn this wicked city and her king (v. 18) of God’s impending humiliation (vv. 4-7) and defeat of Nineveh. The prosperity that the Assyrians enjoyed at that moment would be stripped from them like locusts decimating a farm (vv. 16-17).

Warfare and tyranny run through the history of humanity. As “civilization” has advanced, technology has improved our lives and, simultaneously, made the killing and destruction of war more efficient and massive.

We should consider how our country wages war. Although we do not take over countries and enslave them the way that the Assyrians did, it is my opinion that the American presidents are far too quick to drop bombs on and send troops into other nations. Our leaders use military might to advance their political agendas. In the process, they have sacrificed too many American soldiers, too many soldiers from foreign lands who were forced into service by their government or merely wanted to defend their land against our invading armies, and too many civilians.

Passages like this one in Nahum call world leaders to be careful about waging war and to repent for wars that were and are unjust. As American citizens, we should do what we can to hold our leaders accountable for how recklessly and needlessly they wage war and provide weapons to foreign governments. God is watching; if he held Nineveh accountable for her unjust wars, what will he do to us?

1 Chronicles 5-6, Amos 4

Read 1 Chronicles 5-6 and Amos 4.

This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5:1-2.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b).

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses? I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be.

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were.

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin–the wrath of God. But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us, in his word, examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.

Joshua 12-13 Jeremiah 6

Read Joshua 12-13 and Jeremiah 6.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 6:15: “Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush….”

There are two kinds of shame–internal and external. That is, there are times you feel ashamed and there are times that others try to shame you. (They might even use the words “shame on you,” though it has been a long time since I’ve heard someone say that).

Anyway, external shame is about judging others. When someone tries to shame others, that person is using emotional and psychological pressure to get people to stay in line or get back in line. This kind of shame is rampant in our culture. Political correctness is external shame; so is “body shaming” someone who is considered unattractive because of weight or body shape or whatever. When it comes to morality, external shame can be appropriate. Shame on the person who takes another person’s life in murder or who kidnaps a child or who rapes or molests someone else. If these and other wicked behaviors are not considered shameful, human society is in big trouble. But there is a lot of inappropriate–even wicked–external shaming in our world; this devotional, however is not about external shame.

No, Jeremiah 6:15 is about internal shame. It is about the feelings of guilt that sinners should feel for disobedience to God’s holy commands. When Jeremiah prophesied, God’s people did not feel this sense of shame about their sins. Instead, they had “no shame at all.” Their idolatry, violence, dishonesty, greed, etc. did not make them feel bad.

Nor did they try to hide these sins from others; the phrase, “they do not even know how to blush…” in verse 15 suggests that the sins God’s people were committing were known to others; those guilty of those sins were not embarrassed at all that others knew they had sinned in these ways.

Judging others and shaming them externally is often wrong; feeling shame internally, however, is a good thing. It is not valued in our world, but it is a good thing nonetheless. It is good because it shows that someone has a sensitive conscience. Someone who fears God and his word will feel shame when they sin. That shame can be the beginning of a better future because it can cause someone to repent and to cry out to God for mercy and grace. When someone is unashamed of his or her sin, however, that person can’t even see the need for God’s grace and mercy because they don’t feel the alarm bells going off to tell them that they are guilty before a holy God.

So who sins in these ways and does not feel internal shame? The answer is someone who has sinned that way so many times that they have dulled the voice of conscience. Like a callous on your hand that has become numb to friction or pain, we can weaken our conscience through repeated, unrepentant sin to the point that our sins no longer bother us.

Jesus is the only true solution to internal shame. We can numb ourselves to shame but only Jesus can take it away. He does so when we believe that he has died for our sins, standing in as our substitute to receive the wrath that we deserve from God for our wickedness.

What are you ashamed of? Will you keep burying it until you are desensitized completely to it or will you confess it and claim the forgiveness God will give you in Christ?

What aren’t you ashamed of that you should be? Will you ask God not only for forgiveness but to make your conscience sensitive to sin again?

Deuteronomy 21, Isaiah 48

Read Deuteronomy 21 and Isaiah 48.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 21.

A few chapters ago, in Deuteronomy 17, we read about capital punishment and the very high standards that had to be met before it could be used. Today’s chapter touches again on the death penalty in a couple of different ways:

  • An animal was to be executed as a substitute for the unknown murderer in an unsolved murder according to verses 1-9. The purpose of this law was to uphold the value of human life by making sure that there was some kind of life-for-life exchange if the killer could not be found.
  • A rebellious son could be executed if his parents charged him with rebellion in the presence of the elders of the town in verses 18-21.
  • Verses 22-23 regulated the public display of someone who was executed. God’s law required burial for anyone who was displayed in this way “because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Let’s consider that last instruction in verses 22-23 today. In each of the death penalty cases we’ve come across so far, God’s word commanded the method by which the death penalty must be… um… executed. In every case that I can remember, God’s law required the method of execution to be stoning. Verse 21 of this very chapter, for example, commands, “…all the men of his town are to stone him to death.”

Stoning someone to death required binding that person’s hands and feet so that he couldn’t run away. Once bound, the person was thrown into a pit and the witnesses or the elders would throw large rocks at him until he died. Usually the first stone thrown would be a very large rock that would be dropped on the person’s head so that he lost consciousness immediately and possibly would even die from that strike. It is not the most humane way to die, but it was the only way available in their society that multiple people–representing the entire community–could take part together in the execution.

Now, because God’s word prescribed the use of stoning as the method of execution, why did God include these verses about someone who is executed and hung on a pole? This law did not require that the dead body be hung on a pole this way; it only regulated such a pole-hanging if it ever were to occur.

Also, why would the law say, “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” but not anyone “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22a) is under God’s curse? In other words, why does the curse apply only to the one executed if he is hung on a pole?

One reason that the Israelites might hang someone on a pole is to publicly display the dead body. The purpose here would be to display God’s curse on the man who was executed and hopefully to deter others who might be tempted to commit the same offense. We don’t know enough about daily life in Israel to know if this was ever used but there is certainly no instance of it in the Old Testament historical books that I can think of.

The New Testament, of course, does provide an example that would fit this description which is our Lord Jesus himself. Although he was not “guilty of a capital offense” (v. 22) personally, he came to serve as a substitute for our capital offenses against God. As our substitute, he was cursed by God (Isa 53:4c-d, Gal 3:13 so that we could be blessed with eternal life.

These two simple verses in Moses’s law, verses that may never have been relevant to any situation that Israel ever faced before Jesus’s death, remind us of the blessing of forgiveness we have in Christ. But they also show us how God foreshadowed the atonement of Christ for us in his word, thousands of years before Jesus was even born. This is one of many reasons why we can believe the Bible and know that it is God’s word.

Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, Psalm 103

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are Leviticus 17, Proverbs 31, and Psalm 103.

This devotional is about Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”

Before the tabernacle existed, people offered animal sacrifices wherever and however they wanted. God’s laws described how the sacrifices should be offered and where they should be offered, namely the tabernacle. But people are creatures of habit and stubborn. If Israel was ever going to worship as God had commanded, the people had to stop doing their own thing and start bringing sacrifices to the tabernacle. That’s what Leviticus 17 is about. It commands the people not to offer sacrifices anywhere else but the tabernacle (v. 5) and it prescribes a severe penalty for those who don’t bring their sacrifices to the tabernacle (v. 4).

A key reason for these commands was to stop idolatry in Israel (v. 7). If anyone can sacrifice whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, they also can sacrifice to whomever they want–God or some idol. Creating a central place of worship had many benefits but guarding against idolatry was one of the biggest.

A key theme within this chapter has to do instructions about handling the blood of an animal sacrifice. The word “blood” appears 12 times in this chapter in verses 4, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, so it is an important detail. The reason for this attention to blood is stated in verse 11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood….”

Blood is necessary for life. When it stops flowing through the veins of a man or an animal, the organs and tissues in the body stop working and the animal or person dies. Because it is essential to life, blood is a perfect way to represent life and death. The later part of verse 11 goes on to explain the significance of blood in animal sacrifices: “and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” The Hebrew word translated “atonement” here means “to cover or conceal.” God is saying that the blood conceals one’s sins; it is God’s appointed method for receiving forgiveness. When a person brought an animal as a sacrifice for his sins, that animal became the person’s substitute. God accepted the life of that animal, symbolized by its blood, instead of the life of the person who committed the sin.

Ultimately, of course, all of this anticipated the death of Christ on the cross for us. The statement, “For the life of a creature is in the blood… it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (v. 11) explains why Christ had to die on the cross for our sins. Because he was the perfect man, sinless in every way and righteous by merit for obeying God’s law perfectly, he was the only man who could die as a substitute for sinners. Because you have believed in him, you can be certain that God has forgiven you based on Christ’s death and has accepted you. The death of Christ is central to our faith because only his death could atone for our sins.

Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, Psalm 91

Read Leviticus 3-4, Proverbs 19, and Psalm 91.

This devotional is about Leviticus 4.

This chapter of scripture prescribes how the people of Israel were to atone for their sins. The commands in this chapter are tailored to the type of person who sins:

  • an anointed priest who sinned was required to bring a young bull for his sin offering (vv. 1-12). His sacrifice was more costly than that of the other individuals in this chapter because he was guilty of “bringing guilt on the people” as their representative before the Lord.
  • if the whole nation sinned, they too were required to sacrifice a young bull as a sin offering for the whole community (vv. 13-21).
  • if a leader sinned, he was required to sacrifice a male goat (vv. 22-26).
  • if a everyday Israelite sinned, that person was to bring a female goat (vv. 27-31).

There are several things that are worth noting in this chapter, but let’s focus on this one: for all four types of people described in this chapter, the sinner (or his/her representative) was required “to lay his hand on its head” (vv. 4, 15, 24, 29, 33) just before it was slaughtered. Why? Because the animal was about to serve as the sinner’s substitute. When a sinner placed his hand on the animal’s head, he was symbolically transferring his guilt to the animal who would then die in the sinner’s place.

This gesture would remind the person offering the sacrifice how serious sin is. Because of his or her sin, an animal would die. Although the expense of animal life was bloody and costly, it was a merciful concession by God to allow the sinner to live by accepting another’s death as a substitute.

All of this pointed toward Jesus who died as our substitute on Good Friday. Animals couldn’t really be substitutes for sinful people; only another human could die in our place. But just as each animal had to be perfect (“without defect” — vv. 3, 23, 28, 32), so only a perfect man could truly substitute for sinners.

This is what Jesus did for us! As we celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday, we can do so knowing that our sins are truly and eternally forgiven. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, stood in our place, accepted the guilt of our sins, and was punished by God as our substitute. This is why we are accepted by God and can worship him today and everyday.

Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, Psalm 82

Today we’re reading Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, and Psalm 82.

This devotional is about Exodus 34.

In Exodus 33 we read, yesterday, that Moses wanted to see the glory of God (33:18). God promised that Moses would hear an announcement of God’s goodness (33:19) and see a glimpse His glory (vv. 20-23).

Here in Exodus 34, we read Moses’s description of how God kept that promise. Whatever Moses saw, he did not describe it for us in this passage. He did, however, describe what he heard. When God wanted to show Moses his glory, God proclaimed his name: “The LORD, the LORD” (YHWH, v. 6b) followed by a description of God’s character: “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (vv. 6c-7).

When God wanted to reveal his glory, he described himself in words, in theological propositions. He did show Moses something at various times (see Ex 24:10, 33:11, 23) but whatever Moses saw was a physical representation of God (probably, the person of Christ) not the essence of God. That’s because God is spirit (Jn 4:24, 1 Tim 6:15b-16) so a visible, physical presence is not part of his essence. The only aspect of God that we can understand is his Word–his description of himself in human languages.

If you want to know God, learn theology. That’s how God has revealed himself. The better you learn your theology, the better you will know God. But truly knowing God goes beyond memorizing statements about his character. Truly knowing God requires experiencing his character; that is, we see his compassion, his grace, his slowness to anger, his abounding love and faithfulness, and his forgiveness. We see these truths he has revealed about himself–first in his Word as we read about his work in the lives of others, then in our own lives as we walk with him. Again, if you want to know God, learn theology; then notice how theology impacts and changes everyday life.

What Moses learned about God in this passage is paradoxical. On one hand, God is “compassionate” “gracious” “slow to anger” “abounding in love” and “forgiving [of] wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (vv. 6b-7). Verse 7b, however, says that God “…does not leave the guilty unpunished….” How can God forgive wickedness without leaving the guilty unpunished? The answer is Jesus. We know God’s love and forgiveness in him because he received the punishment that we guilty sinners deserved. This is the glory and greatness of our God. When we consider these things, they should cause us to act like Moses who “…bowed to the ground at once and worshiped” (v. 8).

Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, Psalm 80

Today we’re scheduled to read Exodus 32, Proverbs 8, and Psalm 80.

This devotional is about Exodus 32.

The people of Israel had been slaves for 400 years. They knew how to follow orders, make bricks out of straw, and that’s about it. In the recent past, they rode a roller coaster of emotions as God liberated his people from Egypt but then allowed them to be chased by the Egyptians as well as struggle with hunger and thirst. These were all traumatic events. Without God, they were helpless against armies. Without Moses, they had no direction, no leadership.

This is why they freaked out when Moses stayed with God on Mount Sinai for so long (v. 1). They were fearful that the powerful, awe-inspiring God that liberated them from Egypt had killed Moses for insufficient holiness, leaving them on their own. Without any ability to provide for themselves or defend themselves, they were fearful, vulnerable, and directionless. This is why they insisted that Aaron create a god for them (v. 1); it was an attempt to tranquilize their fear and give them a new hope for the future.

It was also an opportunity to forget God’s law that they’d received in the preceding chapters of Exodus. God’s law prescribed duties and penalties, but also promised blessings, including built-in blessings such as Sabbath and feast days. By contrast, the new golden calf god gave them no laws to follow and threatened no penalties for disobedience. This god, made by men, conformed to and appealed to human desires. It let them have a festival without any moral constraints; the word translated “revelry” has sexual overtones. It sure seems like they broke the first, second, sixth, and tenth commandments as they worshipped their false god.

This is how idolatry works. It promises power by taking credit what the true God did in the past, v. 4b. It liberates the sinful nature within with lawlessness. Israel may have felt better for a while during their festival, but they paid dearly because of God’s justice. The same thing happens to us when we worship an idol. It offers us relief from fear and momentary pleasure but it cannot protect us from the consequences of our sin.

Although Moses was angry with his Hebrew brothers and sisters for their sins, verses 30-34 show us his tender love and compassion for these difficult, sinful people. Moses pleaded with God for his forgiveness for them (vv. 31-32a). He went so far as to insist that God remove him from his elect (v. 32b). This is a powerful statement, asking for God to send him to hell if He would not forgive the Israelites. In this way Moses foreshadowed our advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Although Jesus could not be blotted out of the book of life because he IS life, he identified with us sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself. When God poured out his justice on Jesus for our sins, Jesus took the punishment due to those who are not in God’s book of life. Then he rose from the dead to restore us sinners to eternal life.

A sinner like Moses could never substitute for anyone else’s sin, much less the idolatry of a whole nation. Yet Moses’s statement in verse 32b shows the depth of his love for the people of Israel. Christ DID die for our sins. By doing that, Jesus demonstrated how great his love for us is.

Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, Psalm 59

Today’s readings are Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, and Psalm 59.

This devotional is about Exodus 11:1-12:21.

The most famous–and costly–of the ten plagues was prophesied to Pharaoh and the people of Israel in today’s readings. God promised, through Moses, that, “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (v. 5a). The prophecy was very serious and very specific.

So was the promise of deliverance. In fact, as I read this familiar passage of Scripture today, I was struck by how detailed the instructions were to those who believed God’s word about the firstborn sons. Verses 3-10 detailed specifically what must be done to save your firstborn son’s life:

  • The ratio of animals slaughtered to families was specific: one lamb per family (with some exceptions, v. 4) had to be killed and consumed (v. 3).
  • The animals slaughtered were specific: They “must be year-old males without defect” (v. 5b) and they could only be sheep or goats (v. 5b).
  • The date was specific: “the fourteenth day of the month” (v. 6a)
  • The time they were to be slaughtered was specific: “at twilight” (v. 6c).
  • The sign of their faith in God was specific: “take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (v. 7b).
  • The menu for this day was specific: no pizza that night; instead, “they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast” (v. 8).
  • The way the lambs were prepared was specific: “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs” (v. 9).
  • The way leftovers were handled was specific: “if some is left till morning, you must burn it” (v. 10).
  • The way the meal was eaten was specific: “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

Not one of these requirements had the spiritual or physical power to stop an angel from taking a boy’s life. The commands, though specific, were arbitrary. Death angels are not afraid of sheep blood on door posts or leftovers. But following the Lord’s instructions perfectly was important, for three reasons:

  • First, and foremost, the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb whose blood was placed over the door to one’s home looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice for us as our substitute. Being careless with God’s instructions would cause the symbolism that pointed to Christ to be fuzzy instead of clear.
  • Second, obedience to these instructions indicated genuine faith in God and his word. If you really believed that God was going to take the life of the firstborn son of every disobedient family, you would be very careful to do exactly what God said to do.
  • Third, these instructions would provide the template for the annual observance of the Passover. They gave Israel a specific way to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance for many generations to come.

Now, what does any of this have to do with us Christians? In a general sense, this passage shows us the importance of paying attention to the specifics of God’s word. But, in a more …uh… specific sense, we don’t observe the Passover as Christians because Christ fulfilled the law on that and every other point.

But remember that the lamb and its blood were mere symbols. They had no inherent spiritual power; they merely demonstrated that someone believed God’s word and pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ. So, in the Christian era, isn’t that a lot like baptism? The water of baptism has no inherent power but those who believe in Jesus will be obedient by following his command to be baptized because water baptism symbolizes important spiritual realities about our identification with Jesus’s death burial and resurrection. The Passover lamb pointed toward the death of Christ; baptism points back to it. Both symbols are evidence of faith in God.

These days, however, some people don’t think baptism is very important. They want to change the meaning of it as a symbol by baptizing babies with a different mode besides immersion. And I’ve met some who profess faith in Christ who have never been baptized and don’t seem to think it is very important.

There is no death angel killing firstborns in this age of grace, thankfully. But isn’t just as important, if we believe God’s word, to follow his detailed instructions carefully? If you’re trusting Christ but have never been baptized, let the example of the Israelites at Passover be your guide. If you have been careless about something else God has instructed Christians to do, think about how carefully Israel followed God’s instructions in this passage.

Then go and do likewise, not because you fear losing your firstborn son, but because you fear and love God and want to keep his commands.