Deuteronomy 22, Isaiah 49

Read Deuteronomy 22 and Isaiah 49.

This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, may have felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Deuteronomy 15, Isaiah 42

Read Deuteronomy 15 and Isaiah 42.

This devotional is about Deuteronomy 15.

Poverty is an evergreen problem. It affects every society from the most affluent to the most socialistic. Here in Deuteronomy 15, Moses taught the people of Israel about dealing with poverty in a godly way. Let’s start with two verses in this singular chapter that appear to be contradictory:

  • verse 4: “there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,”
  • verse 11: “There will always be poor people in the land.”

There is no actual contradiction because verse 4 says, “there need be no poor” not “there will be no poor.” The reason that “there need be no poor” is that God “will richly bless you” [here comes a part I didn’t include above:] “if only you fully obey the Lord you God” (v. 5a). When Moses said in verse 11 that, “There will always be poor people in the land” he was acknowledging that Israel would not fully obey the Lord and, therefore, poverty would be one result.

So, even in the prosperous promised land, poverty would exist. How did God want his people to deal with it?

  • First, notice that debt is allowed and it is one of the solutions to poverty. However, God’s law regulated the use of debt so that it would not be permanently oppressive to poor Israelites. That is what verses 1-6 are about. These verses say that debts can be incurred but they must be canceled every seven years (vv. 1-2). Furthermore, God’s people were to be kind and generous toward the poor even when making loans (vv. 7-10).
  • Second, slavery was allowed but only for seven years if the slave was an Israelite (vv. 12-18).

There is a lot more I would like to say about this chapter, but I’ve already written a lot so let me close with a few observations for your edification.

First, compassion and generosity are commanded toward the poor. See verses 8, 10, 11b, 13, and 14. But, just so that you will see at least one of those verses, allow me to quote verses 7-8: “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” God’s people were commanded to be kind and generous to the poor.

Second, the causes of poverty are not addressed in this chapter. Proverbs talks about what causes poverty so that we can learn to avoid some of the behaviors that lead there. But, in this chapter, there is no pointing of fingers at the poor. God did not say, “Find out if someone is poor because of their own laziness or abuse of alcohol or whatever, and only help those who can’t help it that they are poor.” No. Some people are poor because they had a hardship–their father died when they were little kids or they had a drought or someone robbed them–while others are poor because they made bad decisions or were lazy. God did not teach his people to discriminate against any poor people. If they were poor, God’s people were supposed to be kind and generous toward them.

Third, work is one prescription to end poverty. When verse 12 says, “If any of your people—Hebrew men or women—sell themselves to you…” it is describing a particular kind of slavery. The person in verses 12ff sold themselves into slavery because they needed money to live and to pay off debts. This was a limited type of slavery that was only to last a maximum of six years (v. 12b). We don’t practice any kind of slavery any more–a good thing–but the principle of working your way out of poverty is still a valid one. One solution to poverty is a loan with generous terms (vv. 1-11) including cancellation of the loan (v. 2d). Another solution is work (vv. 12-18).

Fourth, there is no command to build a government program to help the poor. The generosity God commands here is the generosity that comes from a willing heart not because federal agents with guns took your prosperity to re-distribute it. Some Christians appeal to passages like this in order to argue for big government programs. That is not what is taught in this passage or in any other passage of scripture.

Caring for the poor has never been easy for me. I was raised in a fundamentalism that said, “Don’t give money to beggars; they’re just going to use it to buy alcohol.” That was sufficient justification to me to do nothing. My attitude was wicked in the Lord’s sight according to verse 9. Over time, I have learned to be more generous with poor people, due to passages like this and seeing how compassionate people, like my wife, are toward those in need. This is still a struggle for me, though, I will admit. Don’t be like me. Don’t judge poor people for being poor; treat them with kindness, love, and generosity.

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.

Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, Psalm 126

Read Numbers 21, Isaiah 10:5-34, and Psalm 126.

This devotional is about Psalm 126.

As with many Psalms, we don’t know who the songwriter was or what the circumstances around its writing were. Because verse 1 says, “the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion” we know that some kind of calamity had come to Jerusalem and that this Psalm was written after that calamity was reversed. And whatever it was must have been major because even the nations were saying, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2c-d). The Psalmist agreed (v. 3) and God’s kindness to them seemed too good to be true (v. 1b) and caused them to rejoice (v. 2a, 3b).

Still, there must have been more restoration needed because the second half of the Psalm calls for God to “restore our fortunes” (v. 4a) even though verse 1 said that the Lord had “restored the fortunes of Zion.” Verse 5 continues by saying, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” That indicates that there was still work to be done.

Perhaps literal sowing was meant; maybe the farms around the areas had been left uncultivated and much more work than usual would need to be done to make the land productive again. The promise of this Psalm is that sowing may be done in sorrow (v. 4a, 5a) but harvest time will bring joy and songs (v. 5b, 6c-d). Nobody likes to rebuild something that has been wiped out be it your farm, your personal finances, your career, your relationship with your family, or whatever. Starting over brings sorrow because it reminds you of how much you lost and where you would be if calamity hadn’t struck. But if you allow sorrow to overtake you and you don’t sow, you will never know the joy of reaping.

The point of the Psalm is that you should do the hard work you don’t want to do so that you can reap the benefits that only hard work can bring. This is a good definition of self-discipline which I heard someone else define as “Doing what you don’t want to do so that you can have something (or be someone) that you want.”

But note that the Psalm puts this call to hard work and self-discipline in the context of faith in God. The Psalmist has already seen God do great things (vv. 1, 3). Now, by faith, he was calling on God to keep restoring their fortunes (v. 4) while they sowed in tears. God the creator made the world so that sowing predictably and normally brings reaping. Those who work hard get rewarded. Calamities happen–crop failures, drought, war, etc.–but those are rare events. Usually the person who believes that hard work will be rewarded gets the rewards of hard work. That’s because God the creator made the world to respond to the faithful efforts of humanity.

Are you trying to rebuild something that fell apart–your marriage, your career, your retirement, or something else? Does the sorrow of loss tempt you not to try anymore? This Psalm calls you to have faith in God and put in the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you’re crying while you do the work, the work will matter. The ground doesn’t care if you sow in tears or in joy. It doesn’t respond any better or worse based on your mood; it responds to faithful effort. So let this song encourage you to keep doing the work despite how you feel and to pray over your efforts by saying, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.”

Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114

Read Numbers 1, Ecclesiastes 11, and Psalm 114.

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 11.

The longer I live, the harder it is for me to understand why God allows what he allows and does what he does. Solomon learned that, too. In verse 5 he wrote, “…you cannot understand the work of God.” The next line, “the Maker of all things” is more than just a descriptive title for God. It explains why we can’t understand God’s ways. He is the Creator; anything we ever know we know only as created beings and only fragments over a short period of time.

Given that we can’t ever understand God’s works, how should we live? There are many answers to that question. The most important answer is simply, trust God’s word and do what it says because in it the author of all things has told us what to do even if it doesn’t make much sense to us.

Here in Ecclesiastes 11, however, there are some practical instructions for us based on the fact that we “cannot understand the work of God.” One of those practical instructions is, “Don’t wait for better conditions to do what you need to do. That’s what verse 4 is telling us when it says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” God’s ways are unpredictable but, generally speaking, sowing and reaping are reliable so don’t try to guess what God’s going to do. Just do what you know works. Verse 6 goes on to make the same point when it says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”

So, on that note: is there anything you’re procrastinating about? Waiting for the stock market to go down before you start preparing for retirement? Looking for a better time to start a business, ask someone out on a date (or to marry you), or strike up a conversation about Jesus? Don’t look for better conditions; seize the moment you have and work faithfully at it.

Going further, though, Solomon commends the choice to be happy despite the unknowability and unpredictability of God’s ways. Verse 8 says, “However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.” Verses 9-10 especially commend this for the young with the understanding that, “God will bring you into judgment.” The point, then, is to be diligent and wise but choose happiness as long as what makes you happy is within the moral will of God.

There are many dark days (v. 8b) for us while we live on earth. We should remember them but not dwell on them. People are anxious about many things but Solomon says you should “banish anxiety from your heart.” Most of the things that you fear will not happen. Bad things that you never thought to fear will happen, but all of them happen within God’s ways which are unknowable to us. If we believe his word and diligently work and live by his commands, there is more than enough to be happy about in this life. So trust God and stop worrying so much.

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

Read Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, and Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of risk or hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful.

I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book about God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 22, Ecclesiastes 5, Psalm 108

Read 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.

Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

Read Leviticus 21, Ecclesiastes 4, Psalm 107

This devotional is about Psalm 107.

This song begins by inviting us to “give thanks to the Lord” for his goodness and his eternal love and devotion to his people (v. 1). Verse 2 sets the theme for the rest of the song which is, “Who should give thanks to the Lord?” The answer is “the redeemed of the Lord” (v. 2). Verse 2 encourages anyone who has been saved by God to “tell their story” (v. 2a). Then the author gets into specifics:

In verses 4-9, the homeless who cried out to the Lord and received his provision should “ give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind…” (v. 8).

Verses 10-16 describes those who lost everything due to the consequences of their own sin (v. 11). When they cried out to the Lord for help “and he saved them from their distress” (v. 13), then they should give thanks to him for his love.

Verses 17-22 talk about those who became ill to the point of death “through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities” (v. 17). Like the others, “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave” (vv. 19-20). As a result, they should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (v. 21).

Verses 23-32 is about those who do risky work. These sailors saw God’s immense power revealed in nature (vv. 24-26) and were nearly obliterated by it but when they called out to God, he rescued them (vv. 28-30). They, too, should “give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

Verses 33-42 talk more generally about the acts of God for people. He provided prosperity for people (vv. 33-38) and brought recession and need into their lives (vv. 39-40) but ultimately he blessed those who needed him (v. 41). Verse 43 concludes by urging the wise to think about the loving works of God.

Everyone who knows God has seen him work in some way. It might be large and dramatic or it might be simple. It is easy to internalize these blessings or even to forget about them. This song urges us to go public and give praise to the Lord when he answers our prayers and rescues us from problems. So, what has God done in your life? Where has he met you when you were in a tough spot, had a deep need, feared for your life, or were trapped by the consequences of your own sin or foolish behavior?

Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104

Read Leviticus 18, Ecclesiastes 1, Psalm 104.

This devotional is about Psalm 104.

It is really satisfying to do something and be happy about how it turns out. It might be a picture that you took that looks really good. You had it framed and put it up in your home and, periodically when you walk by, it just makes you smile. Or maybe it is a picture that you painted, or flooring that you installed yourself, or a piece of furniture that you repaired or restored. When we do something that turns out well, it brings us a very satisfying sense of pleasure.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 104 believed that God must feel that sense of satisfaction when he looks at creation. As verse 31b says, “may the Lord rejoice in his works.” The Psalmist certainly rejoiced in God’s works. From verse 1 through verse 30, the songwriter detailed what God has created and praised him for it. Then, in verse 33, he announced his intention to “sing to the Lord all my life” and in verse 34 stated his desire: “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” Of all of God’s work, this satisfies God the most. When men and women whom he created worship him and desire to please him even in our thoughts, then God is truly glorified. All of this happens by God’s grace to us in Christ and, when it does happen, it brings immense pleasure to our Lord.

When we take time to think about God in his fullness and awesomeness, those thoughts elevate us spiritually. They cause us to stand in awe of God’s greatness and create in us a desire to know and serve the God who redeemed us. Take some time today to think about the size, complexity, beauty, and intricate detail of the world around us that God created. Then praise him and ask for his help to have a heart and mind that aspire to be pleasing to him.

Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96

Read Leviticus 9, Proverbs 24, Psalm 96.

This devotional is from Proverbs 24.

It is tempting to choose the most comfortable option. Today’s reading gives us two Proverbs that caution us against this easy choice.

The first proverb is 24:27: “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” I visualize this piece of wisdom going from Solomon to his newlywed son. As the young couple begins to embark on life together, they dream of having a home of their own. Using the property subdivided by his father, the young couple faces a choice: spend their time and whatever money they have building a comfortable starter home on their new land or live with ma and pa for a while as they work the soil, plant the crops, and tend to the weeds. After the process of starting their farm has begun and the growth of the crops looks promising for their first harvest, then they can start to build a home of their own.

No one really wants to live with their parents and it’s more fun to build a house than to plant a field. But the field will produce income. It will get you started in life financially. It will provide for you in the future. If you build the home first it will give you your independence and a comfortable start to your life as an adult, but it will also drain your finances and delay that first harvest. It is far wiser to put productivity over comfort in the short term so that you can be more comfortable in the future but that takes a disciplined approach to life that probably does not come naturally to most people.

In a similar way, verses 30-34 describe the ease of laziness. If a farmer skips one day of planting, is the crop ruined? No, but it is easy to let one day off become one week off; our legitimate need for rest can snowball (v. 33). We feel as if we’ll be able to work better tomorrow if we rest up today. That may be true; it may also be a way of rationalizing our procrastination.

I lived most of my childhood as a procrastinator. I came home from school and told myself I would do homework or study for my test after I ate a snack. Oh, but Scooby Doo is on, so I’ll watch that just to relax for a few minutes. It’s going to be dinner time soon so I’ll get busy after that. You get the idea. I created habits of laziness in my life. By the time I was in seminary, I was turning in papers at the last minute after an all-nighter. I got decent grades but in my heart I knew I wasn’t doing my best work or getting the most out of the opportunities God had given to me. Eventually I learned to build some disciplined habits, but even today if I deviate from those habits, the old sin of procrastination is ready to slither back into my life.

But what does any of this have to do with God? These are wise bits of knowledge and helpful for productivity but couldn’t we have learned them from somewhere else? Why did God encode them into his holy word?

One answer is that these productivity problems—seeking the easy and comfortable way and allowing laziness and procrastination to take over—are spiritual problems. They are manifestation of a heart that wants to disobey God. God created the world to respond to the diligent work of humanity. He gave us everything we need to provide for ourselves but we have to obey his laws of sowing and reaping, of prioritizing investment over consumption.

Our faith in Christ should lead us toward a productive life because we have faith in his commands and know that when we obey his commands and work with diligence, God will provide and bless us.

Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, Psalm 81

Read Exodus 33, Proverbs 9, and Psalm 81.

This devotional is about Exodus 33.

There are frustrations that come with every responsibility in life–every job, every volunteer position, every relationship. One of the most frustrating things is not having what you need to do the job. If your job is to repair cars but the tools you use keep breaking or getting stolen, you’ll be frustrated.

Moses had one of the toughest jobs anyone ever had. God called him to it, so he couldn’t quit or evade responsibility. There were, by some estimates, millions of people looking to him for leadership, but many of them were complainers and others were uncooperative and disobedient.

In Exodus 32, Moses lost his cool and threw a fit when the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. Now, here in Exodus 33, God told Moses that he was on his own. Verses 1-3 say, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised…. I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites…. But I will not go with you….” All of a sudden, Moses no longer had what he needed to do the job God called him to do. In verse 12, Moses explained his frustration to the Lord: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.’” What Moses said here was not really true. In verse 2 God said, “I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” Later, in verses 15-16, Moses stated the true source of his frustration: “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

So, God had promised the angel’s power to clear the Promised Land in verse 2 but Moses petitioned God not to send them to the Promised Land under that plan (v. 15). But why not? If God promised that the angel would go before them and win the battles for them, wouldn’t that be enough to do what God had told him to do?

Yes, of course it would be enough to complete the basic task but it would not be enough to build a godly nation. What Moses wanted for himself and for God’s people Israel was to walk with God: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (v. 13). That statement was pleasing to God because verse 14 says, “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”

Greater than the promises of land and protection and provision, what Moses wanted was God’s presence. He wanted to know God and to be discipled in godliness by God himself. As the leader of God’s people, he had hard responsibilities to fulfill and needed the most powerful tool–God himself–to accomplish it. But what he wanted from serving God was not influence or authority or recognition. He wanted to know God himself: “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (v. 13).

Don’t crave the benefits God provides more than God himself.

Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, Psalm 79

Read Exodus 31, Proverbs 7, and Psalm 79.

This devotional is about Exodus 31.

At times in my life I have heard people make negative comparisons between “secular” work and the work of the ministry. For example, one successful businessman said he’s just “building a bonfire” because 1 Corinthians 3 talks about a man’s work being either “gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay or straw.” Then the passage goes on to say that the Lord will test each man’s work by fire, so the “wood, hay or straw” will be burned up.

I don’t think he was interpreting that passage correctly but his interpretation was that saving souls, teaching the Word, and building up Christians was work that would last for eternity while everything else would just burn up.

The previous chapters in Exodus described the tabernacle and all the furniture and tools that the priests would need to minister before the Lord. Here in Exodus 31:1-5 we read, “Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” This man Bezalel was a godly man; he was filled with God’s spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But he had other gifts, too, ones that are not usually connected to godliness. Those gifts were “skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” Where did he get these skills? They were gifts of God which probably means that he had some natural ability in these areas. Where were these gifts honed? Making bricks and tools and other stuff as a slave in Egypt. For the first time in his life, this godly man had the opportunity to use his “secular” gifts for the Lord’s work. But was this the first time in his life when his work mattered?

No.

Read that again: No.

This was not the first time in his life that his work mattered. The rest of his work life was not “building a bonfire” at all. The same is true for you, no matter how you earn your living. The work you do as a Christian matters whether or not it is done in secular or sacred contexts. Here are some reasons why:

  1. God created us to work and to make skillful and practical use of this earth an the resources in it. In Genesis 1:28 God commanded Adam and Eve to “…fill the earth and subdue it.” In Genesis 2, before Eve was even created, verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Working the garden and taking care of it was God’s will for Adam. The curse on Adam when he sinned was not that he would have to work but that his work would be hard (Gen 3:17-19). When you do work that makes good use of God’s creation, you are doing the will of God. That work matters.
  2. Doing “secular” work develops skills that can be used in “sacred” contexts. That’s what’s happened to Bezalel. If you’ve ever used anything you’ve learned in your profession to help our church or some other ministry, you’ve been used by God to serve him. That work matters.
  3. Doing “secular” work gives you the opportunity to develop godliness in your life. Working in a frustrating world (because of the curse of Gen 3) and with frustrating people gives a believer the opportunity to develop the fruit of the Spirit. It can teach you to love the unlovely, have joy when things fail or disappoint you, be at peace when there is turmoil around you and so on. Note that in our text, Exodus 31:3, God described Bezalel as a godly man. He was “filled with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge.” That godliness was cultivated as a slave in Egypt, using his skills to serve godless men. It was hardly a waste of time, then, given the difference it made in his life.
  4. Doing “secular” work pays you which supports your family and, through giving, it supports God’s work financially.

I put the word “secular” in quotes throughout this devotional for a reason. I don’t really think there is a true distinction between “secular” and “sacred” work. Please do not consider your work futile and unimportant. It doesn’t matter if you are a stay-at-home parent, a CEO, an assembly line worker, a brain scientist, or a pastor. What matters is that you are faithful to do what God calls you to do and to cultivate Christlikeness as you do it.