Deuteronomy 12, Isaiah 40

Read Deuteronomy 12 and Isaiah 40.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 12.

People have a tendency to borrow cultural items from different people around them. Other nations like American movies and we like Chinese food and Germon cars, for example. Moses was concerned that God’s people would start to assimilate religious elements from the false religions of the nations around them after they entered the land. This chapter reminds Israel to worship the way God commanded without mixing their worship with the practices of false gods (vv. 4-8, 29-31).

But notice that in the middle of this chapter, Moses commanded the people to bring their offerings to the tabernacle (v. 11) and, while worshipping the Lord there, they were to “…rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants” (v. 12). This language reminds us that worshipping the Lord is not supposed to be something that is unpleasant. It isn’t something we dutifully do because it is good for us, like eating vegetables instead of steak. Instead, God designed us for worship and, when we come alive to him by his grace, we rejoice in the worship of the Lord. In our context as Christians, that would meaning singing with joy, learning and receiving his word with joy, praying and giving thanks with joy, fellowshipping around the word with good friends in joy, as well as serving and giving to the Lord’s work in joy.

Certainly there are churches and ministries that try to manufacture joy by being more entertaining or trendy than churches like us. That’s a danger we should watch out for. But we also should be careful not to equate genuine worship with an attitude that is so solemn and serious that “joy” never enters the picture. Solemnity and seriousness are part of worship but so is joy, rejoicing, sanctified laughter, godly friendship, and feasting together.

Most of the time the difference between joyful worship and unpleasant worship comes down to the state of our hearts. When we are preoccupied with the problems and things of this life, we may not be very excited or joyful when we worship together or separately. Certainly sin changes what is important to us and prevents us from wholeheartedly entering into the worship of the Lord.

So how have you felt about worship on Sundays lately? How are these devotionals for you? Is your time of prayer something dry and difficult or is it life-giving and hopeful? If your personal worship or coming together in worship as a church is not something that you rejoice in lately, why not? Are you asking God to change your heart so that you can rejoice in your worship of him?

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 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97

Today’s readings are Leviticus 10, Proverbs 25, Psalm 97.

This devotional is about Leviticus 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, Psalm 88

Today we’re reading Exodus 40, Proverbs 16, and Psalm 88.

This devotional is about Exodus 40.

At long last the tabernacle was completed as well as all the items that were needed to make it useful for worshipping God. The Lord ordered Moses to set it all up (vv. 1-8), set it apart with anointing oil (vv. 9-11), and anoint Aaron and his sons for their ministry in it (vv. 12-15). The rest of the chapter details how Moses obeyed these commands (vv. 16-33) and how the Lord blessed this tent with his presence and communicated his will through that presence (vv. 34-38).

God had promised his presence would go before Israel and give them rest in the promised land (Ex 33:14). That promise was now visually fulfilled through the cloud that inhabited the tabernacle. So, on one hand, the tabernacle demonstrated God’s presence with his people.

On the other hand, there is an emphasis in this chapter on the importance of keeping the people separate from the presence of God in the tabernacle. The word “holy” means to set apart, to make special by separating something for a particular use. Each anointing of the tabernacle and its furnishings and instruments was done to set it apart as holy for the Lord’s service (vv. 9-10). The strongest indication of God’s separation was the “shielding curtain” (v. 21a) that “shielded the ark of the covenant law” (v. 21b). What was it shielded from? Everyone. Nobody was allowed near the ark which represented God’s presence. It was kept in the most holy place and only the high priest could enter and then only once a year. So, while God was truly present among his people, his holiness still kept them from direct contact and fellowship with him.

This is why the gospel writers took note of how the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross. The curtain that was torn was the one between the most holy place and the rest of the temple. When it was torn at the death of Christ, it was a direct, visual symbol that the separation between God and man was now over. God did not lower his standards and allow people into his presence. Instead, in Christ, we are declared to be holy–the theological word is “justified”–because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

Through Christ we have access to God that people before Christ never had. God invites us to know and love him, to contemplate his greatness and worship him in holiness because our Lord Jesus Christ gave us access by his death.

We must always keep in mind what God has done for us in Christ. That is the main reason why Jesus gave us the Lord’s Supper. Through him we have direct access to God and can approach him at any time in prayer without fear.

Have you approached him yet today?

Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63

Today’s readings are Exodus 15, Job 33, Psalm 63.

This devotional is about Psalm 63.

The human body can live for a few weeks without food, for a few days without water, and for a few minutes without oxygen. If your body is deprived of any of these things for long enough, it will be difficult for you to think about anything else. If you can’t breathe and will die in a few minutes, you won’t care how you’re going to pay the mortgage next month or whether the Lions will draft a quarterback in the first round.

The superscription to this Psalm claims that David wrote it “in the Desert of Judah.” In verse 11, he refers to himself as “the king” so the setting of this passage may be when David fled from Absalom his son. Although he was not in immediate danger of starvation or dehydration, David was in a state of deprivation. He was cut off from the water springs of Jerusalem and from “the richest of foods” he would have enjoyed in his palace. What David craved in the desert, however, was not water or food; it was God. “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

He was deprived of God in the sense that he couldn’t see God “in the sanctuary”—the Tabernacle—anymore. He couldn’t offer sacrifices, sing with the people, or hear the Torah read and explained out in the Judean desert. Living in exile, excluded from the comforts and necessities of life, David longed for God more than anything else. He believed that, “I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods” when he rejoiced in God.

None of us knows what it is like to run for your life into the desert. But some people–maybe some reading this, even–know what it is like to have all our financial reserves stripped away and to be evicted from your home. Others know what it is like to lose your family in tragedy or divorce. In our moments of deprivation–and desperation–do we long for fellowship with God or simply for him to deliver us from discomfort? The Bible encourages us to enjoy everything we have–family, material goods, good weather, whatever–as gifts of God. But this Psalm calls us to believe that nothing can satisfy us like knowing and worshipping God can (vv. 1, 5, 11). Does your walk with God give you that kind of joy and satisfaction?