Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77

Read Deuteronomy 28, Jeremiah 20, Psalms 75-77 today.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally materialized here in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6). 

Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8). Imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that was supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cared anything about following God’s word. Imagine that even the priests were out to get you and, when they persecuted you, they did it in public so everyone entering the temple could make fun of you while you were bound in the stocks. That’s the tough job God had called Jeremiah to do.

It was so tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here, then was a man who was caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up was too costly. Being silent was impossible.

What to do?

The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. However, Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ended with painful words wishing he had never been born. Spoiler alert: Jeremiah 21 just moved on to the next situation Jeremiah faced. There was no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.

What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we are serving God. In fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than it is for those who only pretend to serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering. That suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him–not because of any defect in Godbut as the result of living in a sinful world which hates God, seeks to suppress his truth, and persecute his people.

Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. No one felt the pain of doing God’s will more than Christ himself did. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways.

At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue to address problems in the church, just as he did in 1 Corinthians. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone–believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Genesis 46, Job 12, Hebrews 4

Read Genesis 46, Job 12, and Hebrews 4 today. This devotional is about Job 12.

Imagine experiencing the devastation Job experienced and then, when your friends came over to comfort you, they began to insist that this was your fault. That’s where Job found himself in these chapters. His friends took turns explaining that God is just and so Job must deserve what happened to him. Since they believed that as a given, they urged Job to repent.

When Job responded to his friends he insisted on his innocence, cried out to God for an explanation, and complained about his suffering.

In the previous chapter, Job 11, his friend Zophar rebuked Job for his words (11:1-12) and promised Job that if he just cut the nonsense and turned to God, his life would get better. “Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand… Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning” (vv. 13-14a, 17). 

Here in Job 12, Job began his response and Job’s speech in this cycle goes through chapter 14.

The first four verses of this chapter are harsh. In them, Job struck back verbally at his friends for the things they have said to him. In verse 5 Job said, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” That statement was meant as a rebuke to his friends. They have a smug sense of security that causes them to look down on Job for what he suffered.

The problem with Job’s friends was not that their theology was completely wrong. The problem was that they made simplistic assumptions about Job and then applied their theology based on those assumptions.

Imagine that you were on a jury in a criminal case. As you enter the jury box, you look over at the person sitting at that defendant’s table. Just because they are sitting there, they look pretty guilty. It is easy to rationalize that the police would not have arrested them nor would the prosecutor have charged them if they didn’t have really good reasons to think that they are guilty. If you assume–as many of us do–that most criminal defendants are probably guilty, then it is tempting to pass judgment on the defendant without really weighing the evidence or applying the standard, “innocent until proven guilty” in a rigorous way. After all, you don’t commit crimes, so you’ll never be in that guy’s shoes.

But if you were wrongly accused of a crime, you would want the jury to think differently than the thinking I just described in the previous paragraph. You’d want the jury to listen carefully, weigh all the evidence and–most of all–empathize with what it would feel like to be charged and convicted of a crime you didn’t commit.

The point of all this for us is that, when our lives a going well and we feel secure, we should not “have contempt for [the] misfortune” of others.” We don’t know everything about anyone and we certainly don’t know the mind of God. So be careful about assuming that someone who is suffering deserves what they are suffering and that it is their own fault.

Being a good friend to someone who his hurting starts with empathizing with their pain. You shouldn’t ignore obvious sin but you also shouldn’t assume that someone who’s suffering has sinned and deserves it.

Genesis 40, Job 6, Matthew 28

Read Genesis 40, Job 6, and Matthew 28.

This devotional is about Job 6.

In chapter 6, Job continued lamenting the painful afflictions that had come into his life. He had asked his wife in chapter 2:10b: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” But now the sorrow of his reversal in life was weighing down on him much more heavily. He viewed the devastation he had experienced as a direct attack from God (v. 4) and wished that God would just kill him so that he could die without cursing God (vv. 8-10). Job was tempted to curse God because he felt there was no future for him, nothing to look forward to, no encouragement left for this life (vv. 11-23). He concluded this chapter by asking for proof of his disobedience (vv. 24-30).

Although we know personally and theologically that Job was not perfectly sinless, we also know from chapters 1-2 that God did not allow these problems into Job’s life to punish him.

But Job didn’t know why God allowed all this trouble in his life. In that way, he’s like us most of the time. If I break the law and get caught, then I know that the “trouble” in my life is my fault while I’m being prosecuted.

But if I’m living my life as I always have and suddenly my house catches fire and burns to the ground, then I am left to wonder. Why did God allow this? Was it something I did?

When we cannot see a direct cause for the problems in our lives, we tend to speculate in one of two directions. Either:

  1. I did something and God is punishing me for it
  2. Or God is mistreating me unjustly.

This is what Job was wondering so he demanded that God answer him. In verses 29-30 he said, “Relent, do not be unjust; reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.  Is there any wickedness on my lips? Can my mouth not discern malice?”

If you were one of Job’s friends, how would you respond to the feelings and questions he expressed in this chapter? His friends were sure that God was not unjust so they were likewise certain that Job did something wrong.

Is that how we treat people who are hurting and dealing with problems? Do we assume that God is punishing them for something?

That isn’t comforting to anyone, but could it be correct? How would God want us to respond to someone in Job’s situation?

Maybe we know enough about Job’s story to give the right answer biblically. But does that knowledge guide us when we are talking with hurting people? Can we offer friendship and comfort and encouragement to other believers without wondering or implying that they are somehow to blame for their suffering?

Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27

Read Genesis 39, Job 5, Matthew 27.

This devotional which is about Job 5.

Job 1 and 2 record the discussion God and Satan had about Job and the calamity that God allowed Satan to bring into Job’s life. At the end of chapter 2, Job was visited by friends who wept with him and “…sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” (v. 13). Job broke that silence in chapter 3 with a bitter expression of the turmoil in his soul.

The first of Job’s friends to speak was Eliphaz the Temanite. His response to Job began in chapter 4 and extends to our reading today, Job 5. He began his speech by complimenting Job’s wise words for others who were in trouble (4:1-6), but then Eliphaz began to rebuke Job gently for not applying his words of wisdom to himself (4:7-21). 

Here in Job 5, Eliphaz continued his response to Job. His message is, in summary:

  • Don’t be bitter (vv. 1-7, but especially v. 2).
  • Appeal to God to fix all this if you think you’re really innocent (vv. 8-16).
  • But be honest with yourself and realize that God is putting you under discipline (vv. 17-27).

The assumption that Eliphaz and all of Job’s friends had was that Job was suffering because he had sinned and was now experiencing the discipline of God in his life. While Eliphaz did not directly call on Job to repent, his instruction “do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” (v. 17b) insinuates that Job should repent. Eliphaz’s sweeping description of what a good life Job could have in verses 18-26 is all designed to persuade Job to stop hiding his sin, stop living in denial about it, and come clean with God. This chapter, and Eliphaz’s speech, ends with these words, “We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.”

If we didn’t have Job 1-2 or God’s speech at the end of Job, I think we’d be tempted to agree with Eliphaz. I know I would be tempted to agree with him. Job’s problems came so fast and so ferociously that it is hard not to see them as deliberate acts of God. If Job were as innocent as he claims, why would a good and loving God treat him so badly? it makes no sense to us, humanly speaking.

That’s a big reason why the book of Job exists. It exists to challenge and correct our simplistic ideas about suffering. People tend to see God’s blessings as proof that he approves of how they are living. We also tend to see problems as proof that something is wrong. That’s what Eliphaz thought, but he didn’t know anything that he thought he knew. Instead of being spiritually helpful to Job, Eliphaz compounded Job’s suffering with his words.

We should learn from the book of Job that God works in this world in ways that are more complicated than we think. If you are talking with another believer about his or her problems, you don’t know why God allowed those problems to happen. So, it is unkind and unhelpful to make assumptions and then apply God’s word based on those assumptions.

Are you kind and loving when you talk with other believers who are suffering? Or do you–even if you mean well–make the suffering more painful? By all means do what you can to speak truth to other believers, but ask God for wisdom and discernment and make sure that you are kind and loving instead of self-assured and harsh.

2 Kings 22, Joel 1

Read 2 Kings 22 and Joel 1.

This devotional is about Joel 1.

The prophet Joel tells us little about himself and it is difficult to know from his prophecy when exactly he lived and spoke the Lord’s word. It seems likely that Joel ministered after God’s people returned to the land under Cyrus, king of Persia. All of the prophecies about the Northern Kingdom’s defeat to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom’s exile by the Babylonians had been fulfilled. So, too, had God’s promise to return his people to the promised land.

Even though the exiles were over, God’s people were not immune from problems and suffering. Joel 1 describes a different kind of disaster than the military defeats the other prophets foretold. In verses 2-4 we are told that locusts had invaded the land and devastated the crops. Wave after wave (v. 4) of locusts came until there was no harvest left. This left God’s people in dire economic circumstances. They had no grain, vegetables or fruit to eat and none to sell (v. 11). They still had animals, but what would they eat (v. 13)? In a farming-based economy, this would mean starvation and economic ruin for the whole nation.

Joel calls to the leaders of the land–the elders (v. 2) and priests (v. 13) to turn to God at this time (v. 19). This is one human resopnse to a problem like this; the other is to reject God, to curse him and die as Job’s wife counseled him to do in another time and place.

What is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to you? Losing a war against a world power like Israel did to Assyria and Judah did to Babylon would be devastating. None of us reading this have experienced anything like that, thankfully.

But have you faced an economic wipeout–bankruptcy, unempoloyment, or something else? Did it bring you before the face of God in prayer, pleading for his help or did it make you bitter against him, turning away from him in anger?

God allows many kinds of trials into our lives (James 1:2-12). They are all designed to reveal whether we really love and trust him or if we say and act as if we love and trust him while things are good. In other words, trials reveal who the true believers are and who thinks they are a believer when they are not.

But trials also refine the faith of true believers. They show us where our faith in God is weak and teach us to fully depend on him and not on ourselves so much. If you’re experiencing any kind of trial right now, how is your response to it? Does Joel’s call to come before the Lord speak to you about your need to lean on the Lord more than ever at this time?

2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21

Read 2 Samuel 14, Ezekiel 21.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 21:6-7: “Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. 7 And when they ask you, ‘Why are you groaning?’ you shall say, ‘Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt with fear and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every leg will be wet with urine.’ It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God is holy and God is just. God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin so he hates sin and loves righteousness. His justice means that every sin must be appropriately punished. All is right within his creation when sin is punished.

Despite these truths, we should not conclude that God enjoys the suffering that his judgment brings to people. Just the opposite is true; God is satisfied when justice is done but he mourns the pain and suffering that just punishment brings to his creation. In these verses, then, God commanded Ezekiel to groan and express sadness, grief, and fear for the judgment of God that was coming on his people.

Similarly, as Christians we should feel a sense of satisfaction when justice is done but also empathize with the sinner who experiences the pain and loss that come with judgment. That empathy can best be expressed through the gospel of Christ. In Christ, every bit of God’s wrath was poured out in justice but it fell on our Lord Jesus Christ rather than on us sinners. Because God’s justice has been satisfied, mercy, grace, and forgiveness are possible. When we groan and grieve for sinners, God’s love and the offer of forgiveness in Christ is expressed. If God is pleased, then, sinners can be saved.

Do you empathize with criminals when they are found guilty and sentenced for their crimes? Or, are you happy in a vindictive way for their suffering? The people Ezekiel prophesied to were wicked people who deserved every bit of God’s judgment that they got. Yet God ordered his prophet to “groan before them with a broken heart and bitter grief” because God loves his creation. Are we developing that ability in our hearts? Do we truly “love the sinner but hate the sin” or do we secretly hate the sin and the sinner too?

1 Samuel 18, Lamentations 3

Read 1 Samuel 18 and Lamentations 3.

This devotional is about Lamentations 3.

God punished Judah for her sins, particularly the sin of idolatry; Jeremiah was one of the faithful ones who:

  • worshipped the Lord only
  • prophesied on God’s behalf and
  • suffered for speaking the truth to his fellow Jews

Yet throughout the book of Jeremiah and here in Lamentations, we saw how the prophet Jeremiah took God’s punishment on the nation’s sins personally. Here in Lamentations 3, Jeremiah continued the personalization of God’s wrath. In verse 2, for example, he wrote, “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light….” Notice how many times in verses 1-21 how many times Jeremiah used the word “I,” “me,” or “my.” Just scanning these verses shows you how the invasion of the Babylonians felt to Jeremiah like a personal attack from the Lord God.

Starting in verse 22, the prophet changed his perspective. Despite all the traumatic judgment God had brought on his people, Jeremiah looked to the Lord for hope. He realized in verse 22 that his sins and the sins of the nation called for much greater judgment even than what they had received. He understood that being alive to greet any new day was an act of God’s mercy; as he wrote, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22-23). This marked a major shift in his perceptions.

In verse 24-25, Jeremiah affirmed that the Lord was the only real answer to the problems and traumas he and his nations faced. He urged himself and anyone who would read these words to seek the Lord (v. 25b) and wait patiently (v. 24b, 26a) for him and his salvation. All of this hope was based on God’s goodness. “Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (v. 32).

While waiting for God’s deliverance, Jeremiah also recommended personal introspection: “Why should the living complain when punished for their sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: ‘We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven’” (vv. 39-42). This is what the people of Judah should have done before the Babylonians invaded. Repentance would have brought God’s mercy according to his promises in the Law. But, having felt his wrath for their sins now, repentance remained the only right response for his people.

In Christ our sins are forgiven and our eternity is secure. When we are in Him, God views us and treats as perfect because he has credited us with the perfect righteousness of Christ. Still, we are not fully redeemed in the sense that we continue to have a sin nature and we follow that sin nature with disobedience to God’s word. Although God does not punish us for our sins–those were punished on the cross–he usually allows the consequences of sin to play out in our lives and he will bring his hand of loving discipline into our lives to make us holy. That can feel like a personal attack unless we remind ourselves of God’s loving, gracious character as Jeremiah did in verses 22-26. If you’re experiencing some painful problems in life, have you looked to God’s character for encouragement and strength? Have you examined your life and expressed repentance for sins that may have brought these problems into your life?

Judges 10:1-11:11, Jeremiah 23

Read Judges 10:1-11:11 and Jeremiah 23.

This devotional is about Judges 10:16b: “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

The book of Judges recorded God’s relationship with Israel in the Promised Land before the era of the kings began. Israel was settled in the promised land, but they still struggled to trust God and live according to his word. The result of their struggle was a cycle that repeated continuously throughout the book of Judges including here in our reading for today:

  • Phase 1: Disobedience (10:6) to God’s word which led to:
  • Phase 2: Defeat & oppression by their enemies as an act of God’s judgment (10:7-9).
  • Phase 3: Repentance in which God’s people turned to him for relief from their enemies (10:10-16).
  • Phase 4: Deliverance in which God sent a judge to give them victory over their enemies (11:1ff).
  • Phase 5: Obedience (for a while) until they lapsed back into phase 1.

As the shampoo bottle says, “Rinse and repeat.”

Throughout all phases this cycle–and, in fact, at every stage in Israel’s history–God’s love for his people remained. He stayed committed to the covenant he had made with them despite their disobedience and failure. Here in 10:11-14, God pushed back a bit on their repentance. He reminded them of all the times he had saved them after their repentance (v. 11) then told them to forget about it this time (v. 12) like a young girlfriend or boyfriend who says, “We’re never getting back together again.”

God’s compassion remained, despite his frustration. Israel’s suffering under the Ammonites got under God’s skin, too. As verse 16b put it, “And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Sin brings misery and suffering and, although God loves justice, he does not enjoy the suffering that his people endure for their sins. That is why he forgives us again and again and again when we repent. It is the infinite merits of Christ who lived as our righteousness and died as our sacrifice that keeps us in God’s good graces but it is also the incredible compassion of God that keeps him faithful to us as well.

Our sin struggles–meaning, our repeated failures despite sometimes good intentions–may cause us to wonder at times if God will ever stop forgiving us. That, in turn, may cause us to wonder if we should even bother repenting. This verse and many others in scripture teach us that God’s compassion and mercy is much greater than we can imagine.

If you are in Christ, keep striving for holiness and don’t ever quit because you fear God’s displeasure. In Jesus we are accepted; his blood allows the ocean of God’s compassion to keep restoring us when we look to him.

So keep looking to him….

Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149

Read Deuteronomy 8, Isaiah 36, Psalm 149.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 8.

I have heard people who are encountering difficult times in their lives refer to that difficult period of time as “wandering in the wilderness.” That phrase is a metaphor drawn from Israel’s 40 years of literally wandering in the wilderness. Moses talked about that here in Deuteronomy 8. In verses 2-3, he described the reasons for that wilderness wandering. Those reasons were:

  • to humble the Israelites (v. 2b)
  • to test the Israelites in order to reveal whether or not they would keep God’s commands from the heart (v. 2c).
  • to teach the Israelites to rely on God (v. 3d).

If we think of times in our lives as wilderness wanderings, do we think about these purposes? Many times when we suffer we think that our suffering is has no purpose or we have a vague sense that our faith is being tested. These verses would challenge us to think more deeply about these problems. While this passage was not given to say that every problem or trial in life is like this, God’s ways do follow similar patterns. So it is appropriate, when we are suffering, to think about God’s reasons for bringing this suffering into our lives along the lines described in verses 2-3–to humble us, to test us, and to teach us.

Let’s focus on that third one, “to teach us.” Verse 3d tells us that God wanted to teach a very specific lesson which was that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This phrase relates to God’s miraculous gift of manna (v. 3b). The point of the lesson was that God would provide for his people if they trusted him and obeyed his word, even if they didn’t know how he would provide.

I am sure that it is hard to trust God when you have a credible fear of starving. With no food or access to the usual sources of food, a person may be tempted to curse God, to jettison faith, or to conclude that God does not exist. God and Moses wanted people to know that they needed to trust God to stay alive more than they needed everyday sources of food.

Israel wandered and suffered in the desert. Jesus also suffered in the desert. His suffering lasted 40 days rather than 40 years but he countered Satan’s first temptation by quoting this passage, Deuteronomy 8:3d. He knew well that it was more important to trust God the Father than it was to provide for his daily needs by any means necessary. When he refused to sin by turning stones into bread, he was depending on the promise that God the Father would provide for him if he trusted and obeyed God’s word.

Have you experienced a trial in your life that taught you to trust God and the promises of his word? If so, then you’ve seen him provide for you, not the miracle provision of manna but in some way showing himself faithful after you obeyed his word.

When we are tempted to sin, we need this message just as Jesus used this message when he was tempted to sin. Giving in to temptation might meet a need, relieve a problem, or satisfy a desire, but it is the opposite of trusting God. If you face temptation today, remember this–God has allowed this into your life to teach you to trust him. If you will trust him, he will provide for you just as he provided manna for Israel and angels to meet Jesus’s needs.

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 others. 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 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.