Joshua 18-19, Jeremiah 9

Read Joshua 18-19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Remember a few days ago when God commanded the people not to say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (7:4)? That chapter was about the spiritual pride of the people. Because they believed that God was in their city, they believed they were invincible.

This chapter is much sadder; tears recur throughout its verses. The pride of Judah would quickly flatten like air being let out of an inflated balloon as the Babylonians conquered the city of Jerusalem, despite “The temple of the Lord!” within its walls. This chapter prophesies of a judgment that was still future to Judah when it was given. God calls them to stop lying to themselves about their exceptionalism and get serious about their true spiritual condition. Sin ran through Judah like blood runs through your veins; yet God’s people were proud. Therefore, God promised them, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (v. 11).

The only thing God allows us to be proud about is him. Verses 23-24 say, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me….” But this is not pride in their intellect or insight; only God can give “understanding to know” him and he gives it according to his will, to those who are humble and repentant, by his grace.

Also, note that just slapping God’s name on your beliefs is nothing to be proud about. Instead, the proper boast of the believer is in the knowledge of God as he truly is. Verse 24c-f says, “‘that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.” Kindness is foreign to sinful hearts filled with hate. Justice and righteousness are foreign concepts to guilty sinners before a holy God. Only the grace of God can cause us to love and be proud of God as he really is. Once we know him, though, we have what we need to weather the problems of life, even if the strongholds we trust (“the temple of the Lord!”) are thrown down in front of us.

Joshua 14-15, Jeremiah 7

Read Joshua 14-15 and Jeremiah 7.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 7:19b: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?”

The people of Judah had it made in the days of Jeremiah. They had divine protection from God because God’s dwelling place on earth, the magnificent temple built by Solomon, was in their capital city of Jerusalem. Nothing could ever touch them because God would Protect This House. After Israel, their blood brothers and neighbors to the North, were defeated by the Assyrians, the people of Judah did not fear. When the Babylonians came along and started whipping other nations, Jerusalem was unafraid. If they ever did feel concern, they would just point to that huge building on the horizon and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (v. 4). Reminding themselves and each other that they had the Lord’s temple made them feel secure about their lives. They could sin all they wanted (vv. 9-10) because the Lord would protect his temple (v. 10).

Yes, the people of Judah had it made!

Or, that’s what they thought, at least. Prophets like Jeremiah came along to tell them that things were far worse than they thought (v. 13). “I have been watching! declares the Lord” in verse 11c. Look at what I did to Shiloh, the first place where my house lived (v. 12), God said. You may have the temple, but you’re no better off than the Northern Kingdom of Israel was (vv. 14-15). So shut up already about the temple of the Lord (v. 8); instead, change your ways if you want to stay (vv. 5-7).

God was displeased by many sins in Judah (vv. 6, 9) with idol worship being #1 on his list of grievances (v. 9b, 18). Yes, he was angry (v. 20) but his people did not realize something truly important: “Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (v. 19b). Sin angers God but, being all-powerful and everything, it doesn’t really hurt him in the sense of diminishing his power or glory. It does diminish us, however. It cuts us off from the blessings he promised for obedience and puts us under the curses he promised for sin. Sin provides us with temporary pleasure but it leaves permanent damage behind.

Jesus has rescued us from the eternal damage of sin by taking God’s wrath on himself. However, he does not give us a license to keep sinning without consequence. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” rhymes (conceptually, at least) with “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” but anyone who thinks, I can sin and be safe because, Jesus! does not understand what being a follower of Jesus is really all about.

What damage has sin caused in your life, even as a believer? What seeds of sin or sin habits are you sowing that will someday harvest real problems in your life? Are you saying, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” as an excuse to keep sinning? Will you receive God’s grace in this rebuke and change your mind and your life by the power of the Spirit?

Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, Psalm 134

Read Numbers 29, Isaiah 21, and Psalm 134.

This devotional is about Psalm 134.

When I was a very young adult, I took on a second job to pay off some credit card debt. I worked as a night auditor at a hotel on Friday nights and Saturday nights. The work was easy and the hotel was usually pretty quiet but the hours were tough. I started work at 11 p.m. and my shift finished at 7 a.m. That was after a week of working full-time in another job and going to seminary. I was young but it was pretty hard on my body; fortunately, after about 10 months I had paid off the credit card debt and was offered a different job that paid better than my full-time job, so I was able to leave the overnight shift.

The song here in Psalm 134 is for the guys who worked the night shift in God’s temple. Leviticus 6:9c says, “The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.” Three times in that paragraph (vv. 9, 12, 13) the Lord said some variation of, “the fire must be kept burning continuously” and twice he said, “it must not go out” (vv. 12, 13). Someone needed to tend to the fire, then, and this song addressed those priests. It calls on them to “praise the Lord” (v. 1a, 2) and reminded them that they were “servants of the Lord.”

The night shift is unpleasant. You work all night then try to sleep during the day but I could usually only sleep for four or five hours, no matter how tired I was. I also had a low-grade headache while I was awake which made it even harder to concentrate than just sleep deprivation did. The priests who worked that night shift might not have been in much of a mood to praise the Lord. This little song was something they could sing to remind them that they were serving the Lord as they tended to the fire overnight. It called on them to ignore their circumstances and focus on the greatness of God and to praise him because of his greatness.

Do your circumstances make you grumpy? Do you feel like complaining rather than praising the Lord? Remember that we are his servants as we go about our lives and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord. So remind yourself of this passage when you don’t feel like praying or praising God; learn a song that you can sing to yourself to refocus your mind on God’s greatness and praise him accordingly.

Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Psalm 4

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 4, Ezra 4, and Psalm 4. This devotional is about Ezra 4.

Have you ever owned car that was hard to start on a cold winter day? Did you ever get that car going (finally!) only to have it stall out a few yards away from your house? This is what a stuck project feels like to me. It takes so much effort to start something new, but we do it because we have high expectations. Then, for reasons we can’t control–and sometimes don’t even understand–all progress on the project just stops.

God’s people in Jerusalem came back to build a temple. Yes, they came back to rebuild their nation and community, but the government officially authorized and allowed them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple (Ezra 1). And, they did it! First, they re-established obedient worship, then they laid the foundation for the temple and started building as we saw yesterday in Ezra 3.

But, from the very beginning, there were problems. I did not mention this yesterday, but at the end of Ezra 3 there were both shouts of joy from the people (Ezra 3:11b, 12b) and loud weeping from “many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple” (v. 12a). Were these tears of joy? Hardly. Ezra didn’t say so, but those who wept did so because the foundation of the new temple was so small and humble compared to the great temple Solomon had built. That is suggested in verse 12 by the phrase “who had seen the former temple.” It is confirmed by Haggai 2:3 where the prophet Haggai asked these people, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” So, there was internal dissension and opposition to the Lord’s work by God’s people themselves.

Here in chapter 4, we see opposition to building the temple from outside of Israel as well (vv. 1-3). First, foreigners offered to help but, of course, their “help” would almost certainly have come with expectations. God allowed Israel and Judah’s enemies to force them from the promised land because they had mingled the true worship of God with idols. The enemies described here in Ezra 4 wanted that same result.

When God’s enemies failed to infiltrate the construction of the temple they “set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (v. 4). They used bribes (v. 5) and political maneuvering (vv. 6-23) to successfully stymie the construction of the Lord’s temple (v. 24) less than a year after the work began (compare 3:8 to 4:24).

What was behind all of these roadblocks? Satan was, of course. There were human actors in all of this dissension, whether internal or external, but God’s ultimate enemy, Satan, was the one doing the damage.

I’ve encountered this in every ministry I’ve ever been involved in. We set out to do something for the Lord. Just when we start to get some momentum some problem discourages people, complicates the work, or stops it altogether. Maybe you’ve encountered this in your life, too. You’ve set a path to serve God in some new way and, unexpectedly, problems cause you to stall out.

Don’t give up. That’s exactly what Satan wants! Opposition to God’s work is part of living in a fallen world. God’s people got through this and, if we keep trusting the Lord and seeking to do his will, he’ll get you and me and us through the problems too.