Judges 6, Jeremiah 19

Read Judges 6 and Jeremiah 19.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 19.

God complained, through the prophets, about many sins committed by Israel and Judah. But, of all those sins, idolatry was mentioned most frequently. God’s judgment against his people was closely tied to breaking the commandments about having any other gods and making idols for worship. From God’s perspective, we can understand this. God is real and other gods are not so it is offensive to give his glory to false gods and deeply unjust to worship something that people created instead of the true Creator.

For those who don’t know God, however, it may seem strange that the Old Testament spends so much time and ink addressing idolatry. The list of human problems is long. It contains moral issues like murder, assault, theft, rape, adultery, as well as societal problems like starvation, poverty, war, infant mortality, etc. These are more pressing issues, when it comes to human life and the quality of it, than idolatry. At least, that’s what people might think.

Here in Jeremiah 19, however, we see another reason why idolatry was so offensive to God: Human problems sprout from bad theology like branches sprout from the trunk of a tree. In verse 3 God prophesied “a disaster” on Judah and Jerusalem and, in verse 4, the reason he gave for doing so was “they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned incense in it to gods that neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah ever knew.” But notice what followed his complaint about their false worship: “they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.” Israel’s idolatry wasn’t just a waste of time caused by praying to something that wasn’t real. Israel’s idolatry led them into unimaginable human wickedness. Thank about how depraved someone would have to be to take their beautiful newborn baby and burn it alive as an “offering” to Baal. It is incredibly cruel and unspeakably evil.

This is what happens with bad theology. Bad theology is a symptom of a wicked, unredeemed heart but it also leads to greater wickedness such as cruelty and inhumanity toward other people. We Americans don’t worship Baal but we do worship unrestrained sexuality which leads to pornography, premarital sex, unrighteous divorce, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and other sexual sins. We worship money and wealth which leads to exploiting workers, dishonest advertising, and unfair contracts. There is only one true God and only he can say what is truly right and wrong. Worship any other god–even one called YHWH or Jesus but detached from God’s revelation–and you will get all kinds of human wickedness, too.

Judges 5, Jeremiah 18

Read Judges 5 and Jeremiah 18.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 18

When I was a kid, I heard more than one preacher say something like, “If you’re in God’s will, you’re invincible until God is done with you.” I understand the theology behind that statement and Jeremiah probably did, too. The first part of today’s chapter about the potter’s house teaches that truth.

But Jeremiah certainly didn’t feel indestructible. In verse 18 Jeremiah learned about a plot against him by the people of Judah. The end of the verse, “…let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” indicates that their plans were to attack him verbally and ignore what he prophesied. But verse 23 shows that he saw their plots as much more serious: “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me….” This explains Jeremiah’s severe prayers against them, asking God to starve their kids (v. 21a) and allow them to lose violently in battle (v. 21b-e).

Those are harsh words, to be sure.

Was it sinful for Jeremiah to pray them?

Possibly, but we must also keep in mind that Jeremiah was acting as God’s messenger (v. 20) which was the source of Judah’s rejection. Even though his fear was personal and his prayer was severe, it was a call for God’s justice: “Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” This prophet, Jeremiah, who had interceded with God for his country and his countrymen, now understands, for the first time in his life, how God feels. He knew personally what it was like to extend grace to sinners (v. 20e) and be personally rejected despite that gracious offer. He knew what it was like now to be righteous and have sinners hate him because of it.

If we can identify at all with Jeremiah’s anger, it ought to teach us to hate sin. The sins that we love so much, that we coddle and cherish or that we excuse and defend, are plots against God. Our wickedness is a crime against his holiness and he is so angry with us that he allowed Jesus to endure all the sufferings and humiliation of the cross. What Jesus experienced on the cross was not only the rejection of sinful humanity; it was the wrath of God against me for my sins, my plots against him, my crimes of unholiness.

This is something to keep in mind when we struggle with temptation; if we can see sin how God sees it, it will help us turn to him for help to overcome it.

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.

Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, Psalm 139

Read Numbers 34, Isaiah 26, and Psalm 139 today.

This devotional is about Isaiah 26.

In yesterday’s reading, we noted the Isaiah 24-25 is about the future kingdom of the Lord that we will experience in eternity. This chapter begins with that theme (v. 1: “In that day…”) but it quickly turns back to current realities. Isaiah described the confidence and peace we will know in that kingdom (vv. 2-6) but then in verse 7 he returned to describing the current state of people. We can see that turn to his present times most clearly in verse 8 which says, “…we wait for you….”

So, starting in verse 7, Isaiah began describing the different lifestyles of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous walk in the way of God’s laws (v. 8) and desire God (v. 9) while the wicked continue to sin no matter what. Verse 10 begins the description of the wicked with a powerful phrase, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” The “grace” Isaiah has in mind here is the gift God gives when he withholds his wrath from the wicked.

Isaiah knew that his nation, his culture, was unfaithful to God, disregarded his laws, and deserved his punishment. Isaiah longed for the day when righteousness ruled in God’s kingdom (v. 9), but he knew that before that God’s judgment would fall on his nation (v. 11). That phrase in verse 10, “But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness…” explains why there is always sin and unbelief, even in a nation where God’s word is abundant.

In fact, it even applies in a church where God’s word is abundant. There is turmoil and war and devastation in many places in our world but in many more there is mostly peace and prosperity. In times of peace and prosperity people can turn their thoughts to what is right and wrong, what is important and what is unimportant. People can think about how we got here and what might happen when we die. They have time to investigate the truth claims of many religions and even study the Bible in search for God.

Yet, despite the blessings God has given to our world where so many have time to do these things, the world gets more and more wicked. God’s grace in withholding his judgment does not cause people to turn in droves to him for salvation. It gives them greater freedom to sin. The next phrase in verse 10 is, “even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord.”

That last phrase is key. People go on sinning and do not learn righteousness in the day of grace because they do not regard the majesty of the Lord. That takes the supernatural working of God giving spiritual life to the spiritually dead through the doctrine we call regeneration.

If you are dismayed by the sin in the world, pray for God’s Spirit to move in people’s hearts giving them repentance and spiritual life. They won’t find the Lord just because they have time to look for him. None of us seeks after God on our own; it is only when God works in the hearts of the spiritually dead that people begin to “regard the majesty of the Lord.”

A better day is coming. Verse 19 says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” But before that day comes, God will bring fierce judgment on this earth because people disregarded him and his righteousness even though God is gracious to us. While we wait for that day, pray for God save others so that they may know the majesty of the Lord and escape his powerful wrath.