Joshua 6:6-27, Isaiah 66

Read Joshua 6:6-27 and Isaiah 66.

This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God had commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no. They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty; instead, they were to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. God did not delight to see his creation slaughtered in this way. It should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered God’s people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

What Isaiah is describing in this passage is the offensiveness of religious rituals when performed by unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means. In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK. It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants.

Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Deuteronomy 31, Isaiah 58

Read Deuteronomy 31 and Isaiah 58.

This devotional is about Isaiah 58.

There is a place for symbolism and ceremony when it comes to following the Lord. In the Deuteronomy 31 chapter that we also read today, God commissioned Joshua (vv. 14-15), a symbolic act where the Lord officially recognized Joshua as Israel’s leader. So, symbolism sometimes is useful.

Here in Isaiah 58, however, God confronted the mere symbolism of fasting. In verse 2 he said, “day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways….” Fasting was the symbol they chose to signal their sincerity and desire to know the Lord. But they were unhappy that their humility in fasting did not give them the answers to prayer they had been seeking (vv. 2b-3d). In response, the Lord called attention to the ways in which they were living disobediently to him while they attempted to show their devotion through fasting.

Fasting was regarded as a way to express humility (v. 3c, 5b). Humility is about unselfishness; it is about acknowledging that God is the Creator and Lord and we belong to and serve him. But the Lord was unimpressed by the pretense of humility symbolized by fasting. Instead, he wanted to see some actual humility, some real unselfishness, expressed in giving your workers some time off to rest (v. 3f), not bickering and arguing with others (v. 4a) or using violence to get your way (v. 4b). If you make your workers work while you take time off, argue with people to get your way, and even beat someone else while you are fasting, you’re not humble or unselfish; just the opposite.

God wanted his people to skip the fasting and be generous in sharing food with the hungry, shelter with homeless, and clothing with those who need it. In these ways you aren’t symbolically depriving yourself but rather depriving yourself in the sense that you give up some of your food, some of your space at home, and some of your clothes to someone who needs them. Generosity for those in need, then, is a greater expression of faith and devotion to God than a religious symbol like fasting.

How does this apply to us today? We don’t have many symbolic or ceremonial practices in our faith because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law for us. But we do sometimes measure our spiritual life by how faithfully we practice things like church attendance, serving in the ministry, or reading the Word. When done from the heart, these change us to live more in line with the image of Christ but they can also be done to reassure us of our spirituality or to signal to other believers how devoted to God we are. We can have perfect Sunday attendance but still be mean and quarrelsome and cranky. We can read the word everyday and not miss one verse in this devotional plan but still selfishly take advantage of others.

We don’t feed the poor or shelter the homeless to earn favor with God. We also don’t read the Word or pray to gain his favor either. All of these things are expressions of a heart that loves God. Verses 13-14a spelled this out in connection to observing the Sabbath: “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord….”

So, do you enjoy reading the Word, praying, serving, and worshipping on Sunday because you want to connect with God? Do you show love and generosity toward others because you are grateful for God’s love and desire to share it with others? This is the kind of worship God wants. It is worship that does what he commands but does it from the heart, not to impress God with our consistency.

So, how can you show genuine generosity to someone today?

Deuteronomy 28, Isaiah 55

Read Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 55.

This devotional is about Isaiah 55:6-8.

This chapter in Isaiah issues an invitation to people who are thirsting for more than life has yielded to them (v. 1a-b). They want something better even though they have nothing to give (v. 1c-d). When they do get some money, they spend it on things that promise but do not deliver nourishment or satisfaction (v. 2). To those people, God said, “Come to me” (v. 3a). Instead of seeking all the unsatisfying things of this world, God said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (v. 6).

But seeking the Lord looks different from God’s perspective than it does form ours. That’s because “‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (v. 8). So what does it look like to God when someone is truly seeking him? Verse 7 provides the answer which is, repentance: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.”

We understand the wicked forsaking their ways. The ways of wicked people are wicked. They are dishonest, violent, selfish, and designed to satisfy their own lusts. Every command of God involving human action–from the command not to worship idols to the one not to kill–is a prohibition against wickedness. Those who break these commands are wicked; when people do one or more of these habitually, they show themselves to have wicked ways. These are the actions that do not satisfy (vv. 1-2); God invites the wicked to change his mind and seek the Lord instead of these wicked ways.

But notice that verse 7b goes further than calling people to forsake wicked ways. It says in that verse, “and [let] the unrighteous [forsake] their thoughts.” This command addresses a couple of human problems that keep us from God.

The first is hypocrisy. Sometimes people act righteously but think wickedly. They do what is right but want what is wrong. Their reasons for doing right may be many: social expectations, respect or religious status, or even a desire to earn favor with God. Regardless of how they act, though, their thoughts are unrighteous when judged by God. This is what Jesus called hypocrisy. It is obedience to God’s word on the outside while craving evil on the inside. God tells this kind of sinner that he will be unsatisfied and calls on him to repent about his thoughts and to seek God from the heart.

The second human problem that is addressed by the command to to forsake one’s unrighteous thoughts is the motivation that causes people to act wickedly. In other words, there are some who act righteous but are masking unrighteous thoughts but there are also those who act wickedly because they have unrighteous thoughts. Actions that are sinful start with thoughts that are wicked. Those who act wickedly have shown us what is in their hearts; their hearts, therefore, need to be changed before they can forsake their wicked ways.

Who you are on the inside and what you desire in your heart will eventually be exposed. You can’t desire sin but act righteously forever. Like a full bottle of water placed in the freezer, the water within freezes and expands and eventually the ice comes out. People, similarly, cannot contain their wicked thoughts forever; eventually what you desire will be expressed in actions. They might be actions that you do secretly in order to try to maintain the appearance of righteousness but they will become actions in the real world.

The point of all of this is that God wants us to turn our thoughts and our actions away from wickedness and seek him instead. We seek him in repentance and faith. Only the supernatural work of the Spirit of God can accomplish this work and he does that through the power of God’s word (v. 11). If you want the satisfaction that God promised, then, you need to beg for his transforming power through repentance then allow the Spirit to change you by the power of his Word. That means learning God’s word but also being obedient to it in your life.

What is the state of your heart before God? Are you seeking him from the heart, turning from your wicked thoughts and actions? God promised true satisfaction for those who seek him from the heart. Let’s believe that promise and turn to him.

Genesis 34, Job 1, Psalm 33

Today’s readings are Genesis 34, Job 1, and Psalm 33.

This devotional is about Genesis 34.

Larry Nassar went to prison a few years ago for molesting over 150 girls and young women while he was supposed to be treating them in his role as a sports medicine doctor. He is just one of many men in the news recently who treated women sinfully and shamefully for his own satisfaction. Here in Genesis 34, we read about Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, and how she was taken and raped by Shechem (v. 2). I doubt she was the first woman in human history to be mistreated this way and she certainly wasn’t the last. Her story contains several marks that are common:

  • She was doing nothing wrong and felt unafraid despite being vulnerable (v. 1).
  • She was taken advantage of by a powerful man who did not fear accountability (vv. 2-3).
  • There was no outrage on her behalf or response from the man who should have protected her (v. 5).
  • In fact, Jacob was willing to cover up the crime committed against her (vv. 6-12). Note from verse 26 that her brothers later “took Dinah from Shechem’s house.” This phrase shows that Shechem kept her and did not bring her home after he assaulted her and went to talk with her father.

At least her brothers recognized the evil that was committed against her and had an appropriate emotional response to it (v. 7b). Their remedy for what happened to Dinah was extreme and unjust, killing all the men in a city when only one man had sinned against their family (v. 25). Their extreme violence was not justified, but their outrage and desire for justice certainly was.

Why did Jacob respond so passively after his daughter was mistreated this way? One answer is fear. Jacob feared retaliation from the other nations around, so he was unwilling to seek justice for his daughter. His fear prevented him from doing the right thing. Those who covered up Nassar’s crime may have reacted that way for the same reason.

Women bear the image of God. He loves them and sent Christ to die for them just as much as he did for men. It is shameful when any man mistreats a woman–raping her, or groping her, speaking inappropriately to her, or demeaning her. It is also unrighteous when men do nothing after a woman has been mistreated in any of these ways.

Guys… God created us to glorify him in how we treat women and how we partner with them to create families for his glory. Treat your wife with dignity and love. Protect her and your daughter(s) from predatory men. Never use your physical power or your position to take advantage of a girl or a woman. Keep your hands to yourself around other women and speak to them only in ways that are pure and appropriate in the sight of God. If a woman comes to you for help, take her word seriously and see that she gets justice.